Friday, October 28, 2011

Helping God ...

There is a huge distinction between serving God and helping Him.  Serving God is the highest honor any intelligent being can aspire to.  Helping God is something humans believe - is a good thing and may be required as circumstances dictate.  We sometimes attempt to “help” God when His timeline does not seem to match our “needs”.  We “help” God when we see His promises just out of our grasp and believe with only mild effort on our part, we can acquire them.  We “help” God in His work to save lost souls, by pointing out to them the error of their ways.  In short, we like to think of ourselves as God’s little helpers; partners, coworkers, and dare we think it, perhaps peers?  After all “helping” God seems to have plenty of examples in scripture, perhaps God even expects it?

God makes promises in scripture.  Take His promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation, this promise was unconditional.  In point of fact, when we examine the promises of God, they are all fairly unilateral – God does the work, provides the blessing, etc. – and we simply accept it.  God’s promise to Abraham was not contingent on how many wives Abraham had, or would have.  It was not contingent on how old Abraham was at the time, or how old he would be when this promise was actually fulfilled.  His promise did not rely on how often Abraham slept with Sarah his wife.  Abraham believed and perhaps hoped that the fulfillment of God’s promise would come soon.  So he attempted to “help” God by entering into a new sexual relationship with Hagar, Sarah’s slave.  She did conceive.  Abraham thought, this was it, the fulfillment of God’s promise.  But not so.  And now the tension between the first wife and new wife became so great, He would lose his young son, as Hagar and Ishmael fled into the wilderness.  The blessing of God remained on Ishmael despite his unconventional origination, but God was not looking for Hagar’s help in this matter.
When it would take a miracle to conceive, Abraham and Sarah did have their promised son.  God wanted for Abraham to know, it was not luck, it was not mere coincidence, it was not the natural result of a man being with his wife.  He wanted Abraham to know this son would be from Him - a gift from God.  He did not need Abraham’s help in this matter.  In point of fact, Abraham’s blessing extended to Ishmael and he too became a great nation.  But peace between the descendants of Ishmael and those of Isaac would appear to be forever elusive.  In his efforts to help God fulfill His promise, Abraham inadvertently created generations of war between brothers who have very different views of how to honor the God of Abraham.
God promised Jacob that he would lead in his household despite being the younger twin.  Had Jacob simply waited on the Lord perhaps the story of enmity between he and his brother may never have existed.  But instead, Jacob and his mother, took matters into their own hands, deceived his father, stole the blessing, and brought extraordinary strife between brothers once again.  Jacob would have to flee his father’s tent to escape the wrath of his brother.  Leadership would elude Jacob for decades, his life would be hard working for his uncle Laban.  As he deceived his father, so he too would be deceived by his uncle.  All of this pain, from Jacob’s desperate efforts to claim the promise of God, himself, through the means he had available.
Neither Jacob nor Abraham was “serving” God when they attempted to help Him see His promises fulfilled.  Serving God would imply that God had asked them to take a specific action and they were only complying with the request of the Lord.  God did not ask either of them to do what they did.  They initiated the action.  They did it themselves.  In addition, note the complete absence of seeking the counsel of the Lord before they pursued their attempts at helping.  They did not ask God if it was His will for what they would do.  They did not ask even if it was OK.  They kept God out of what they did.  Human effort to make up for Divine inaction in the timeframes humans believe are critical.  These were two patriarchs of our faith, but it was precisely a lack of faith that led to these impatient actions.  Both would learn from them.  Both men’s faith would increase over time from the pain of consequences that would come from what they did.  Scripture does not record their actions as an example of what we should do in these cases.  In fact it is just the opposite of this.  God does not need our “help”, and yet His promises are always fulfilled.
Perhaps the hardest lesson taught in scripture is “be still and know that I am God”.  “Still” is not something most of us are comfortable with for any length of time.  We long to see our “needs” fulfilled in short order.  We wish to maintain a measure of control of the process.  The land God promised to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob would not remain unoccupied while their descendants sought refuge in Egypt.  Over 400 years the tribes of Jacob, now Israel, would descend from honored guests, to despised slaves.  The Pharaoh’s would utilize the wealth Joseph and his God were responsible for bringing to their nation on themselves.  They would take the credit for it, and claim divinity in their bloodlines.  They would go so far as to execute the first born children in Israel to “keep the numbers down” lest there be a rebellion in the near future.  Moses alone would escape that slaughter.  The promise of a deliverer would be fulfilled, but only when it would take a miracle, only when God alone could break the power of the Pharaoh.  Moses was more inclined to run from the responsibility that to initiate his own actions to begin it; and so Moses served God, following God’s leadership not running ahead of it.  Moses relayed the will of God.  He did not try to define it.  Moses waited for God to use His power.  And the power of the Lord freed His people.
But on their way back to the land of promise the children of Israel wanted to “help” God take back their land.  God offered to send in wasps, to drive the current inhabitants out of the way of His people.  This offer was rejected by the Israelites.  Imagine how much death could have been avoided if they had simply listened to God.  Cities, homes, fields, crops, would have been left undestroyed, without the stain of blood.  The peoples driven from this land would be alive afterwards to wonder why this God would take such an interest in His people to perform this great work for them.  The fame of the God of Israel would have grown yet again, by those whose personal testimony was one of wasps driving them out of the way of His people.  Instead they would be driven into the ground by the bloodlust of those who claimed to follow God.  In the process, many of the house of Israel would also fall.  They would not succeed in driving out all the inhabitants.  Those that remained, remained enemies, always looking for an opportunity to make the lives of the invaders worse.  False gods and promiscuous sexual worship of those idols would enter the house of Israel.  The resulting births would create new temple prostitutes if they were girls, and human sacrifice or slaves if they were boys.  This evil would bring a cycle of invasion, repentance, and temporary reform.  But because the servants of other gods remained in the area, the cycle would repeat again and again; all of this because the children of Israel wanted to “help”.  They wanted to feel like they “earned it”.
And are we any different today?  Our salvation from evil is a free gift from Christ, yet we cling to the illusion that He must need a partner in this effort.  We hold on to the idea that our works, our actions, our faith, our motives must somehow play a role in our own redemption.  We too want desperately to feel like in some small way, we have earned it, we deserve it.  We twist texts on forgiveness to imply that we deserve forgiveness because we forgave another.  Instead of accepting the personal freedom and liberation from bad feelings that comes with truly releasing another in forgiveness for a wrong they have done to us; we instead make forgiveness a conditional act. 
We apply texts that advocate actions, to the actions we wish to take.  But like Jacob or Abraham, we do not actually take the time to seek the counsel of the Lord as to His will in the matter.  We quote scriptures to ourselves, and then leave Him out of it.  We initiate our own actions but in His name.  Carry placards in front of abortion clinics, or simply sneer at homosexuals we see out in public, or politely tolerate those of a different race until we are able to escape their company.  None of these actions reflect the love our Lord feels for His children.  But many are too common in Christian circles.  Actions we initiate on our own, in an effort to help God in His work of saving souls.  But God does need our “help”.  He needs our service.  Our service defined in actions of love to those same souls we look down upon.
More to the point, God does not need my “help” in saving me.  He needs me to let Him save me, and instead only focus on serving Him.  Service implies a relationship where I do nothing to lead.  I am not the co-leader, the co-pilot, the co-anything.  I am the servant.  Servants are told what to do, they do not choose for themselves.  Servants are directed by their Lord where to go, what to say, and what to do.  A servant is humble.  A servant is pliable.  A servant can be taught.  And in our case, we are the willing servants of Christ, so we are able to fully trust that our Lord would not ever steer us wrong.  Service steeped in love becomes my aspiration.  Allowing God to control what I think, what I want, and therefore what I do – is the basis of accepting His gift to me that I will never deserve.  It is the “I” that must be crucified if Christ is ever to be reflected in me.  It is “self” that is the enemy of our God.  He never looks inward at Himself to make Himself feel better.  Instead He is always focused on us, the object of His love.  He is always doing for us, longing for us, whispering to us, and faithfully fulfilling His promises to us.  Our God has no concept of “self”.  That is something we know, because we have embraced evil.
Let us learn that service requires we let God lead.  Let us take our plans, and our intentions to God, and ask for His counsel BEFORE we proceed.  Let us wait on His response and not try to rush His promises or see them fulfilled with our “help”.  Let us change the world by reflecting His love to all we encounter, and leave the process of the cleansing of sin up to the only God who can do it in me, or in others.  This is the hallmark of a servant of Christ.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Unknown ...

Despite our prayers, despite our scriptures, despite the countless commentaries and books written by authors seeking to help us; there are some questions that simply remain unanswered.  Not just mysteries of the universe or existence, but sometimes personal questions or situations that do not seem to make sense, and require an answer, though none are evident.  How does a person of faith contend with the great unknown?  It is easier to follow doctrines and ideologies about spiritual matters that form our faith, but harder to contend with an unanswered question that directly impacts our day to day lives.  Surely the Christ whose ministry was one of active love, involvement, and concern for the smallest among us, would not leave us without an answer for any great length of time.  But sometimes that is exactly what happens.  What should a Christian do about it?

When there is no doubt that God exists, when there is surety about His character being one completely composed of love; unanswered questions, the unknown, the future, the next step can still remain a black as night.  Prophecy tells us what lies ahead in general terms, but seldom is aimed directly at me.  Biblical principles can greatly help me in making a decision, provide guidance, and keep my decisions in accordance with the love of Heaven; but they say little about my choice of career, immediate health concerns, or my choice of a mate.  They provide guidance, oversight, values, but rarely specifics.  Most specific guidance is found in what not to do, rather than what to do.  When confronted with a question that affects our lives, we seek the Lords response in His word, in His still small voice, and on our knees.  But when His word provides no specific answer, or perhaps multiple answers, and His voice seems silent, we are left with only patience to face the unknown.  It does not diminish our belief in God’s existence, or His love, but it does provide us with a cause for concern.
The unknown often brings with it a sense that we lack faith, or perhaps that our sins and evil thinking cloud our judgment and make us unable to see what the Lord would have for us.  We doubt ourselves, if not our God.  And the unknown remains.  The patriarch Job faced a series of calamities in days of old and questioned what he had done to warrant his fate.  He wondered aloud why God would punish him, as from his point of view, he had done nothing to deserve what had befallen him.  He never doubted God’s existence, nor did he doubt the integrity of his own actions, but he could not resolve why his life had turned out the way it had.  He lost wealth, he lost children, he lost health, but he did not lose faith.  Nor did he find the answer he sought, he suffered in silence.  His friends could offer him no comfort.  His wife encouraged him to curse his God and die, to end the suffering.  He did not.  He maintained his faith, and eventually he was able to converse with God about what happened to him.  But even in that conversation God’s “answer” was not to Job’s liking.  God simply reminded Job, that He was God, Job was not.  Job’s life was restored to him in greater measure than what he had lost, but even in this there was no real answer from God.
You and I know why this happened, because we have the benefit of reading the story of Job in scriptures, with the author’s vantage point of an argument in heaven between God and Satan over the faithfulness of His servant Job.  Job’s life was a focal point in a much larger question before the universe – why does one trust and serve God?  Satan proposed the God’s love and blessings were the motivation for service, Job proved otherwise.  And he proved it in darkness.  Job proved it in the unknown, in the unanswered, in the NOT knowing.  Job could not be told of his part in the larger question without influencing his outcome.  Job could not be assured that his life would one day be restored, nor that he continued to enjoy the tender favor and love of God.  Job had to suffer alone.  Job had to face calamity, and the unknown, and decide for himself what he was going to believe, or who he was going to trust and serve.  It was not fun.  It was not pretty.  It was darkness, isolation, pain, with no end in sight.  In this condition, Job made and reaffirmed his choice.
Sometimes Satan brings much calamity into our lives, even when we did nothing we know of to bring it to our door.  We do what we think are the right things.  We believe what we think is truth, and follow our God, hoping for His blessings.  Yet Satan enters our lives and presents us with darkness and the unknown.  With luck, our condition is not ever as bad as Job’s was, but for some of us the pain feels as great.  But as we suffer, we continue to hold to our belief that God is with us, even though we cannot see Him, or perhaps hear Him.  We can know from the story of Job that God is always with us, even when we do not understand.  But this assurance does not always lift the blindness, or illuminate the path we need to take to move forward.
It does make one wonder why a God who is so careful to protect His word to us, and so involved in our lives as we daily submit to Him, would still leave us with unanswered questions, and unknown issues.  When we face these situations we always believe that God will answer us, even if it is not yet.  But how long is too long?  How long did Job have to wait?  Job’s conditions changed, but his answer never came.  Moses waited 40 years tending sheep, and then another 40 years wandering the desert, and still did NOT enter the Promised Land.  Abraham waited till he was nearly 100 years old before being given his promised heir.  Noah waited 120 years toiling on a boat on dry land for a phenomenon called rain that had never occurred before.  Enoch was over 300 before leaving our world for Heaven without seeing death.  Clearly our ideas of immediacy do not match Gods.  Imagine how Abraham continued to age, and wished he could have his son, in order to play with him, teach him, and love him, while he still had time; but year after year passed with no heir.  The children of Israel had already spent 360 years in slavery in Egypt before Moses rose up and slew the Egyptian.  Instead of freeing them, he fled for his life.  They waited for his return for another 40 years.  Young men became old men, still kept in hard bondage as Moses tended sheep in Midian.  Every day spent under the lash, was no less painful, no less immediate.  I am sure some older folks who wished to see freedom died before Moses could return.  Yet for His own reasons, God delayed the return of Moses for 40 more years.  Our ideas of “when” we need an answer are not always in sync with Gods.
So why does God allow us to face the unknown?  The question is fundamental to faith.  We can trust to facts, science, our eyes, our ears, our senses, our logic – or sometimes in spite of all of those, we can trust in God.  Sin began with a choice to trust in the brilliance of our minds, versus the counsel of God.  Lucifer did not trust that what God told him about the pursuit of serving self would lead to where it did.  He trusted himself, his own wisdom, his own logic, the brilliance of his mind, and he was wrong.  God was right, not because the facts were evident, they were not.  God was right because He is God.  He is always right.  What makes sense to us is not always the correct answer.  What seems logical is not always what is right.  In order for us to never experience evil again, we will have to learn to let go of our own superiority and trust God instead.  We need to allow God to be God.  And that means like Job, we must decide to follow God’s wisdom despite a lack of answers, despite what is contrary to common sense, despite what outcomes we experience.  We must trust in God’s love even when pain is all we see.  Because God is love, and everything we experience has a part in the story that is needed, even if it is not evident.  Our wisdom, our logic, our common sense, our sensory organs are simply not enough.  For evil to remain extinct for eternity, we must learn that God alone can be trusted, NOT us.
It is easy to trust in God when what He asks of us, lines up with what we want, or what makes sense.  God tells us to flee persecution and we are fine with that.  He tells us to seek His protection and we are fine with that.  But when He tells us to love our enemies and turn the cheek to someone who just knocked the heck out of our other one, we somehow are not quite as fine with that.  When He tells us to build a boat to avoid a flood we have never seen, that does not make sense.  When He tells us to literally sacrifice our only son on an altar to Him, a crime for which He normally allows Israel in later year to be invaded for, that does not make sense.  When He tells Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water, or tells His followers it is better to die believing in Him than live denying Him, those things make less sense.  They defy logic.  They defy reason.  And therefore they form a conscious choice to believe in a God that is a God, and define our place in the universe as created beings, subservient, less wisdom, less logic, less truth.  We are inferior to God, whether we like it or not.  This is something Satan refused to accept, trusting himself, instead of God.  And evil was born into the universe.  But to rid the universe of evil, all of creation must accept that only God is God, and only His words can be fully trusted.  No more will one third of the angels ever follow another liar into doom.  No more will another world be set with a tree of temptation to follow a competing ideology than Gods.  No more, because from now on, all will rest comfortably following the counsel of God – even when it does not appear to make sense, or go along with what we want or think.  This is the basis for the end of evil.  This is the basis for the extinction of evil for all time.  And it is the only way to keep affliction from rising a second time.
The unknown should be a welcome friend to us.  It is OK to content with the presence of the uncertain, the unknown, and the seemingly bleak in our existence.  It is not a lack of God we see, but the manifestation of His trust in us, to face the unknown and seek Him anyway; to trust in Him despite what we experience, and our complete lack of knowledge about the outcome.  For God Himself, in the form of Christ set our example in this too.  When Christ hung upon the cross of Calvary, He did not know if having been so stained with the weight of our sins, if the Father could ever accept Him back into His presence again.  Christ faced the unknown.  Not just a temporary what if, but a question that could keep Him forever separated from His own Father.  It was the biggest unknown any being could ever face, and He faced it for us.  He loved us anyway.  He died for us anyway.  He chose to love in spite of the unknown, and we are saved as a result.  How can we expect to participate in the process of salvation without the trying fires of the unknown in our path, to validate our decision to follow God despite what we do not know?  How can we truly say we trust God, if we are never faced with a situation with which we do not have control?  Let us welcome the unknown, and rest in our decision that to follow God in spite what we do not know, is ALWAYS the right decision.  It is the one we will repeat for eternity, and it can begin right here and right now.  Outcomes do not matter, but trust does.  Let us always trust God over ourselves, or our insecurities, for He is faithful to us every time – especially when there is simply no answer.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Greater than Justice ...

Equality and justice are not enough.  In an ideology that governs a perfect universe, where love itself is the core abiding principle, merely exacting justice is simply not enough.  Love is greater than equality.  Love is greater than justice.  And forgiveness is greater than justice or vengeance.  Some have judged the character of God as vengeful, or vindictive, looking to visit punishment on those who dare to disobey, or reason differently than God reasons.  They look at the texts within scripture of “an eye for an eye, and a life for a life” as being God’s standard for equal justice under the law.  Texts that proscribe punishments for breaking the law are emphasized behind a rationale that to be fair, God must be just, and therefore the wicked must be punished, and only the righteous protected from suffering.  But this view ignores the very heart of God, and sees only what his enemy would have us see.

When we experience pain, we tend to look for retribution.  If you hit me, I must hit you back.  At least in that sense “fairness” will have won out.  But what if fairness was not the goal?  What if the elimination of hitting altogether was the goal, not just by me, but by you, and the entire world?  What if the true goal was the complete elimination of pain entirely?  How does my hitting you back foster a greater goal?  Justice may be served, fairness may be enacted, but hitting remains, pain remains, and now two hurt instead of one.  There must be an alternative to pain, something better for us to aspire to.  There must be an example of what is better, and why it is better, or our decisions to embrace pain may never change.
When Lucifer first rebelled against God in heaven, perhaps the most often asked question is why God simply did not eliminate him from the universe immediately.  He had the power to do that.  He had a legitimate reason to do that.  It would have been both fair and just.  But God is love, before He is justice.  God is mercy and forgiveness as long as there is hope.  God did not simply want Lucifer to humble himself, admit his error, and return to the throne of grace.  God wanted the entire universe to freely choose love.  Love could not be mandated.  The witness of all intelligent life must be free to see what the alternative to God’s reasoning was, where it would lead, and what would be its result.  Only then could intelligence freely choose love, and in so doing, turn away from pain altogether.  Killing Satan right away, would not have allowed this freewill decision to be reached by those who had not yet had the time to see where alternatives to God would lead.  There would forever have been a question as to whether something different from God, might indeed be better than God.  So to achieve the greater goal of the extinction of all pain, and because love was indeed the core principle within our God, Satan was allowed to pursue his choices.
And the war of ideas came to our world.  Adam and Eve were offered the choice of love by God, and permitted to face his alternatives in the garden.  They chose badly.  Already there had been a war in heaven.  Already the adoption of the ideas of “self first” had yielded a painful harvest.  Now it would be so again in our world.  Justice could simply have left us to our fate.  Equality under the law meant our extinction as a species was chosen at our own hand.  Permanent separation from God was the first result of our embracing the pain and deceit of his enemy, subjugation to Satan was now our lot.  This was at our doing, not part of the plans of God for us.  God did not desire this for us, He did everything He could to avoid this fate for us.  But He could not mandate our choices.  Now what to do?  It would have been easy for us to allow the guilty to suffer their fate – we do it regularly in our society.  We punish the guilty and hold in our own hearts the comfort of enacting justice.  But love is greater than justice, forgiveness greater than pain.  And so hope was offered to us, despite what we had done.
If the Bible were nothing more than a story of punishment or retribution, it need not proceed any farther than the story of Adam and Eve.  They had perfection, were offered a choice, were warned of the consequences, and chose badly.  It could easily have been the end of the story of man, as told by the unfallen angels in the millennia to come.  But it was not the end of the story.  God CHOSE to forgive man, to offer man redemption, even at the cost of His own life.  How does one show what love is?  Love is not shown in exacting justice, but instead returning mercy for hatred.  “Fairness” is not the standard God achieves, instead it is higher than that.  In point of fact, it is not fair, that man is offered an eternity in perfection because of the actions of the Son of God.  It is not fair that we who deserve death are offered life instead.  It is not fair that we who have so wounded the God of love, are given love back instead of what we deserve.  Fairness never seems to enter the equation.  But love does.  Mercy does.  Forgiveness does.  Everything of true value in the ideology of love is offered to us by the God who embodies love.
If our God’s hatred of pain and evil were his overarching personality characteristic, then the story might well have ended at the flood.  Evil had grown so intense, so pervasive, that to witness what man did to man, and what man did to nature was nearly beyond the capacity of God to sit and watch.  Evil was so bad in our hearts, minds, and actions, that it caused God to be “sorry” He had made us.  So why not with a simply flick of the wrist, or speed of thought, wipe man from existence then.  Obviously our choice to embrace pain and sin had yielded a harvest beyond the scope of our imaginations.  The world was nearly as evil as it had ever been, or could be.  But God’s love was greater than His desire to see the world rid of pain.  So instead Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  It was not that Noah was perfect, nor his children, but they still chose to follow God.  For 120 years, Noah would preach to the world of an impending destruction to end the pain God must daily witness.  Had his listeners repented, the flood would have been cancelled as the destruction of Ninevah was cancelled when they listened to Jonah many years later.  Think of it, 120 years more, not a day, or a week, or a year, or even a decade longer, but for 120 years the flood was delayed; patience and time for the world to decide to continue to embrace pain and death, or to escape it.  But only Noah and his family chose to enter the ark. 
Throughout scripture the stories of love, mistakes, forgiveness, and redemption would be illustrated over and over and over again.  Enemies of God would arise, and seek to kill those who chose to serve the Lord.  It would take divine intervention to keep those who served the Lord from immediate destruction.  Fairness was not the standard.  Mercy was.  God attempted to reach every enemy of His and of His people throughout time, but so many would not hear His calls, or accept His mercy.  Even those who claimed to serve Him made mistake after mistake.  But despite our own actions God did not abandon His love for us, or His plans to redeem us.  Even when we, His creations, the object of His love, put Him up on a cross and crucified Him, He remained steadfast determined to redeem us.  The leaders of His own religion that He established would be the chief instigators in His death, yet He did not shy away from His love for us.  Christ defined how far love would go.  It was so much farther than justice, so much farther than fairness, beyond the imaginations of all who witnessed it.  This was the standard to which God ascribes.  This was the fulfillment of salvation to man, and the definition of love to the universe.  On Calvary, Christ illustrated to all intelligent life how far love would go.  And in so doing Satan was defeated.
It was not because Satan was killed at Calvary that he was defeated, but it was because his ideology of pain and hate was fully revealed.  The results of any alternative to love were finally shown for where they would lead, how far they would go.  These ideas stood in striking contrast to the Son of God who laid down His own life to redeem the creations bent on His destruction.  The contrast of love against all other ideas, and love won.  Evil and pain are dead in the universe from Calvary to infinity, not because intelligent life lacks the ability to choose, but because they have made a choice that will not be undone.  Now it only remains for man to see, and choose again as all other life has done.
Creation, followed by roughly 2000 years and the flood, followed by roughly 2000 years and the Messiah, followed by roughly 2000 years and it is we who enter the stage, ready for His second coming.  But the message that must be preached to all the world before He returns, is not one of the impending justice to be enacted.  Instead it is the bright shining alternative to Satan found only in unconditional love.  It is not threats the world needs to hear of the final fires of Hell.  It is the alternative to life of pain, a life of empty self-serving pursuits that can never be satisfied.  It is the reality that separation from God, and from love, is ALREADY the highest form of torture that could exist.  It is worse than dying by flame.  To live without love is to exist in torture.  But because of love, this need not be our fate.  Because of His love, we are offered an escape from pain, and a life worth living.  A life that seeks always to answer the infinite question – how does one show love?  This question will find answer in our every thought and deed for all of eternity.
The Bible then, is a love letter from God.  Our God is not interested in seeing us suffer the justice and fairness we have earned, rather He is interested in seeing us embrace the love He offers us.  His salvation from the pain we embrace is His gift to us.  He charges nothing for it.  He offers it freely.  He makes it easily available.  He does everything to lead us to it, and nothing to hide it from us.  Love is truly greater than justice.  Forgiveness is greater than equality, or vengeance.  Those who know what love is, through the daily submission of the will to Christ, begin to understand why we should turn the other cheek.  Those who begin to see how deeply He loves, and aspire to do the same, begin to wish to participate in His goal, of bringing about an end to all pain.  It becomes less about being fair, and more about reflecting love.  For that love is the character of our God, the reason for our redemption, and the reason for us to choose forever to abandon evil and pain that mark its alternatives.  In this, God achieves His goal forever and pain and death will one day cease to exist.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Relevance and Reality ...

Real life.  Real problems.  Real questions.  Each of us face life everyday confronted by the realities of our situation, our heredity, our genetics, and our choices.  For Christianity to mean something to each of us, it must really mean something.  It must make a difference in our day to day existence.  It must improve our lives or it is not worth espousing.  Relevance; a real impact, making a real difference, seeing real change in us.  For too long, Christianity has been taught as a theory, a lofty ideal set down by forefathers none of us have ever met, in a time when the realities of life were much more simple and less demanding.  “They” never faced a world like we face.  And pastors who merely relay the testimony of the past to a generation in the future find ever dwindling congregations as the “real world” swallows the rote platitudes of well-rehearsed impersonal sermons.  Christianity must be REAL again.  We need to follow the example of Christ and become contemporary, become relevant.

Christ did not come to this world to be served, He came to serve us.  It would have been easy for the King of the Universe to simply accept the willing worship of His subjects, but this was not in His mission, or even in His character.  Christ did nothing to turn away our love and affection, but He also did not sit idly by on a throne of our construction and do nothing more for us.  No, instead if you wanted to spend time with Christ, you had to go where He was, and He was always WITH the people.  You could generally find Christ with those who were more than willing to spend time with Him; the poor, the sick, those in need, those who were outcast by society.  Christ did not turn away the rich who sought Him, but then, not many did.  The religious leaders only sought Him out to monitor his popularity with the people, and to guard their own positions of self-appointed spiritual authority.  Christ got into the dirt.  He walked the dry arid roads.  He drank at the public wells (fountains).  He ate with whoever invited Him to share a meal.  He was out there.  He was involved.  He was real.  He was relevant.
Christ did not sit behind weekly lecterns and give lofty idealistic sermons to show off His deep understanding of scripture.  Instead He used language His listeners could relate to.  He spoke to them in terms they could understand.  He told stories to illustrate His points.  He was patient with them.  He was careful with them.  He was love incarnate.  His messages were meant for a singular purpose, the redemption of His listener.  Every story, every counsel, every blessing, every prayer, all designed to bring His listener to the throne of grace to receive the wonderful gift He and His Father were offering us.  He brought us a freedom from sin we could never know on our own.  He was and is our Savior.  He made His words cut to the soul of man, deep in our inner core, to touch that image of His that lies within us all.  The problems His listeners faced, the issues and debates they considered, Christ had an answer for all of them.  He did not run from questions, He answered them.  He did not shy from interaction He sought it out.  His messages were not designed to bring glory to His own speaking ability, but to move the hearts of man to redemption.
A young man hooked on drugs could argue that Jesus never faced what He must face every day.  How can the church offer a repeated drug addict something more?  What does Christianity say?  Get a job?  Get your act together.  Find help.  Get clean.  Just say no.  How do we make Christianity real for the hard core addict, who seems not even to want to be different?  Christ faced this very situation.  No, I doubt He encountered a heroin or cocaine addict as such.  But He did encounter several who were demonically possessed.  Unable to control themselves, they would cut their own flesh, curse those who happened near, and attack any innocents they encountered.  These people had no more control over themselves than the drug addicts of today do.  They could make no “good” decisions.  Their minds were as warped by the demons within them, as are the drug addicts of our day whose minds have equally been warped by the chemicals they routinely ingest.  What do both have in common? - An absolute need of Christ, who ALONE can change not only their actions, but the desires behind their actions.  The drug addict can no more fix himself, than the demoniac of old.  They are both powerless to simply stop or say no.  They both need a creator.  They both need the singular God who ALONE can restore what NO ONE else can restore within them.  There is a message for the drug addict of today – Jesus CAN make you whole, and He wants to, and He will – will you let Him?
But then a message about the power of Christ is intimidating to some Christians.  “What if it doesn’t work?”  This nagging question lies at the root of all doubt.  But what good is a God who is unable to deliver on the promises He commits to?  What is it we call faith, if when faith is put to the test, we worry about the reality of our God?  How could a follower of the God of love believe that their God would actually desire a person to remain in slavery to drugs that warp the mind, and ruin the body?  No, it is the desire of God to free every single addict, as He once healed every single sick person in each town or village He came across.  None left behind.  None left to suffer.  All healed.  And every single drug addict we encounter in our world today can take hope in the fact that Jesus healed em all.  Jesus loved them all.  There was no one so far gone, that Jesus could not bring them back to life – even the dead.  Nothing was or is beyond the reach of our God’s love and desire to redeem.  We need not pray with timidity to find cures and fixes for the lost souls who wander in darkness.  It is time for them to see a great light revealed in our world, in our prayers, and in our actions steeped in love.
A pregnant girl, whose weakness now seems to threaten all her hopes and dreams.  A young couple whose ideas of marriage have hit the skids as real life is altering their perceptions of what should be.  A middle aged man who fears the next trip to the doctor’s office because he might hear the scariest words in the English language.  The unemployed, the poor, the downtrodden, the lonely; all those who feel the pain of the world in which we live.  He reached out to them all.  Christ had a message for each of them, and He still does.  Our lives can be better when we let Him change the core of WHO we are.  Our lives can begin to improve as we surrender our need to control, and learn that we can ALWAYS depend on Him no matter what we face.  Some things He will remove from us, some He will walk through with us, some we will never even know were headed our way.  But each day can be better, as we allow Christ the freedom to renew and recreate in us what must be recreated.  The pregnant girl can find redemption no matter her past, and strength to meet each day as it comes.  She is truly NOT alone, as Christ is with her every second.  The failing marriage can find a renewal of love steeped in sacrifice that inspires even more love from the partners.  The man whose health is in question can find not only healing of body, but peace of mind, hope in what lies beyond this mortal coil, and meaning in every day he lives between now and whatever end may come his way.  For we are all dying, it is only a matter of how and when.  Those in misery can find REAL relief, as each life sheds the evil and pain that comes with it.  Each and every life can be better because of what Christ does within us.
The Bible is a love letter from God to man.  Every story should be adapted to be useful in our current day to day lives.  Every precept, principle, and example both good and bad, should be used to offer real solutions to the questions put forward now.  The Bible is NOT a historical manual designed only to teach us where we come from and what we have gone through to get here.  The Bible is NOT a prophetic road map designed to show us where we are heading and provide us with a blow by blow description of every event that will occur until the return of our Lord.  Both the past and future are present in scripture, but scripture remains a LOVE letter from God to man.  Absent love, it is absent relevance.  Absent Christ, it is absent meaning.  Absent redemption, facts are useless.  Every prophecy was designed to show us the love of God.  Every event in our history, every miracle, every story was designed to illustrate to us in the real lives of the participants involved, the immediate love of God in action.  The same God who blessed Jacob, Joseph, and Solomon will bless us today.  The same God who worked through Esther to save a nation may work through you to do the same today.  The same God who trained Moses for 40 years tending sheep, may have similar ideas for you as well.  Each story was designed to show how God yearns to redeem each of us.
To find the relevance in the scripture for the lives we live, take a careful look at the villains in the stories.  God is tender with every single one.  He works with all of them.  He tries desperately to reach out to Cain, Pharoah, Esau, Saul, Ahab, Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, the Pharisees, even Herod.   Their stories are recorded to show us that we have the ability to reject the love of God.  But they also remind us that each of us is offered the love of God.  Any one of them could have had an entirely different story if they were willing to repent, and submit to the love God offered.  The deliverance of the children of Israel was not needed in the lifetime of Joseph.  It could have been restored by the conversion of Pharoah to the worship of the true God.  Egypt might have remained the strongest nation on planet earth for years to come, had Pharoah abandoned his ideas about being equal to God.  The Pharisees could have had their positions of leaders of God’s religion restored had they simply acknowledged Christ as the Messiah.  The Romans or others under the influence of Satan would have surely fulfilled the prophecies of the death of Christ, it did not need to be the Pharisees behind it.  But alas, the villains are villains because they would not accept the love of God.
If the message of Christianity is to become relevant to the world again, as it was in the time of Christ, it must become relevant in the lives of its followers.  We can no longer espouse words, we must inspire observation.  Christianity must become a movement of real change and real difference in the real followers of Christ.  The new sermon is the sermon of example.  The new testimony is the testimony of action.  Christianity must be seen in us, the working of Christ in our hearts, attitudes, and lives.  If we are not the example of the removal of pain, then what is the point of our words?  Real hope is not found in self-discovery, self-enlightenment, and self-awareness – it is found in the death of self, and surrender to Christ.  A real relief from pain is found when God is allowed to change in us what must be changed, and what we have been wholly unable to change.  This is the beginning of wisdom, the beginning of relevance, and the beginning of relief.  It must be lived to be understood.