Friday, January 27, 2012
If Salvation is to be a gift of God, it must begin with the first act God does on our behalf, to clear away the fog of our addiction to sin long enough for us to make an informed decision as to what we want for our lives. Even at its earliest inception, Salvation begins with God “doing” for us. We do not naturally come to God. We do not naturally abandon our evil and decide of our own ideas, that following God is something we want to do. It is not us who takes the first action in our salvation it is our God. One must remember that what we are being saved from … is ourselves. It is not some nebulous evil that lurks out there somewhere in the dark of night, that we are seeking refuge and salvation from. Yes, there is a devil, and he has many accomplices to assist him in his dark mission. But it is not the external devil who has the time, or interest, in tempting each one of us incessantly throughout the day to do wrong. Unfortunately for us, he does not have to. All he really needs to do, is to foster in us, the daily habits of wrongdoing, and a like a wind-up toy, we do it again and again on our own. The evil outside of us may be real, but it is the evil within us that presents the greatest threat. It is not possession by evil spirits that causes us to “want” to do wrong, it is our own carnal nature. 6000 years of genetic decay, and declining societal morals, combined with daily personal experience of choosing to do wrong – creates in us a machine that does “bad” things, motivated by “bad” desires, on a regular basis. The worst of it, is our lack of ability to even perceive it on our own. It therefore requires that God intercede for us and give us enough clarity to make a real decision for or against Him.
To realize that even this “first contact” must be initiated by God, is to realize that salvation is truly a gift, that was never earned or deserved. Throughout scripture ‘mighty men of faith’ seem to have performed great acts of valor, courage, and miracles following the will of God. But upon closer examination, even the faith they have in the first place comes from God as a gift as well. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians chapter 2 and verse 8 tells us that we are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves: it is a gift of God. Even the very faith that acts as our mechanism to save us by grace comes not from within us, but is given to us as a gift. The origins of our redemption comes to us a gift. Abraham was a man of considerable faith. Does this mean his gift from God was arbitrarily more than another man’s? Or might it mean that He was simply more willing to receive it, more willing to accept it, more willing to act on it than other men. Hebrews (chapter 11, verse 8) tells us that … “By faith Abraham …” combined with what Paul has revealed to us about faith coming to us as a gift, we see in totality that Abrahams actions motivated by faith, originated to him from God as a gift, the mechanism of his salvation.
Only one chapter later in Hebrews 12 and verse 2 we read that Christ is … “the author and finisher of our faith”. Meaning that at the inception of our faith was Christ, and at its fulfillment will be Christ. Everything that comes to redeem man from the slavery of self comes as a gift, neither earned nor deserved. It begins and ends with actions done by Christ to us and for us. It is also fortunate for us that Christ not only begins this work, but completes it in us as well. How many of us have made New Year’s resolutions, or promises to the kids, or to even to ourselves or God, that over time we have “let slide”? Our resolve and our faithfulness is rarely something that can last years, let alone decades, or a life time. We use the excuses of being “too busy”, or having “higher priorities”, or being “financially unable” to fulfill our commitments; sometimes even to God. But Christ needs none of those excuses as He is faithful to us for the entirety of His existence. He is eternal. His promises therefore endure for an eternity. He does not merely begin a work of creating faith in us, only to “let it slide” as He sees us fail again and again as we pursue salvation in our strength. Rather He waits for us patiently to see the folly of our “wisdom” and to release control back to Him to resume His work within us. He is faithful to see His work of instilling faith in us completed – finished – reaching its fulfillment. The text not only promises Christ to begin it, it is the greatest promise of hope in scripture, in that it also promises He will finish it in us.
Our choice matters, but our own actions are irrelevant. Our actions reflect who we are, whether a recreated creature of our Lord and Savior, or the slave to self we are inclined to remain. Actions do not cause us to become different; they are merely a reflection of who we already are. To become in harmony with the will of God, we must become different than we are today. We must be born again, re-created, a new creature in Christ – effectively someone else other than the accumulation of thoughts, desires, and actions of the person we are today before Christ is allowed to alter us. Who we are must die, in order that who we are to become can be effected in this world, in this life. It does not require a literal death of the body to achieve a recreation, but it does require a literal death of everything we hold dear – our inclinations, our desires, our way of thinking, and our selfishness. It is our illusions of control that must be torn down and released to see a difference in the core of who we are. We are not autonomous, independent creatures who need nothing more than our own strength to make through life and into heaven; far from it. In point of fact, it is our current condition of belief in ourselves that is the very thing that blinds us to real salvation.
Therein lies the catch 22; how does someone who is already blind, “see” that they are indeed blind? It requires Christ to “show” us that we are blind. In order to begin the process of recreation, Christ must insert Himself into our lives, interrupt our routines, and give us a glimpse of the contrast between what He wants for us, and where we are today. Some people refer to this idea as having a “conscience”. This inborn sense of right and wrong or inherent morality, is often attributed to God attempting to reach us. Short psychopaths, and sociopaths, most folks inherently realize they should not be killing others. We do not usually casually enter into physical fights if they can be avoided. This sense of apprehension and innate knowledge that to hurt is somehow wrong is a first sense that God is there. God is not looking to add guilt to our lives over our mistakes, rather He is looking to give us pause, and help us avoid the pain that comes from making our mistakes. Sometimes to reach us requires more intense interaction. Sometimes we are confronted with the contrast of good and evil in affluence, sometimes in poverty, sometimes in happiness, sometimes is distress. But no matter how we are reached, we will be reached in order that God can lift our blindness, if only for a moment, to give us the chance to make a clear choice to move towards Him, or away from Him. None of us reach the grave, without having been given this opportunity. There will be no lost sheep who is able to greet His Lord and claim ignorance or abandonment by the loving God who wished to save him. Rather all will one day confess that He is worthy – either as the redeemed in the city of God casting crowns upon the ground in abject humility, or as the condemned outside the gates who are compelled to admit the truth before rising to try to slay that which they would never learn to accept.
The greatest danger to the process of re-creation is inside of Christianity rather than outside of it. Christians who believe that purity is reached by the actions they take are deluding themselves perhaps more than the unbeliever who “knows” he is lost. Commonly the unbeliever assumes he is “doomed” because he is living a life outside of the perfection scripture seems to demand. But upon becoming a Christian, he learns to accept forgiveness for his failures, and still attempts to reform his life with no better success than he had before his conversion. Over time his inability to conquer his sins leads him to rationalize that either he just does not have enough faith, or that the examples of others he sees is what is leading to his own downfalls. A pursuit of perfection that begins with what I “do” ends in my failure and requirement for yet more forgiveness. Christians so often misread the Apostle James letter describing faith in chapter 2 verse 17 he says … “faith without works is dead”. They believe they must perform works in order to validate that they have faith. But as we noted earlier, faith itself is a gift. How can we acquire a “gift” if we are attempting to earn it, or work for it? Instead what James is talking about is the evidence of our acceptance of the gift of faith. When we accept the faith God gives us, it changes us. It remakes us from the inside out. It is the mechanism that allows us to put greater and greater trust in God to recreate us. And as we change who we are, we become someone else. The new creation does the will of God, because we are in harmony with it. As such our lives become beacons in the night, lights on a hill. We are not known for our great spiritual sermonizing but rather for our boundless acts of love and selflessness. Those are the “works” that are the evidence that “faith” is alive in our lives – changing who we are. We do not work to get faith, any more than we work our way to heaven or perfection. Our works reflect where we are in the process, nothing more.
But for a Christian to come to see that they are no more able to defeat sin as a Christian than they were as an unbeliever is a hard pill to swallow. Too often we believe the because we have come to Christ that we have been somehow given “magical” powers that enable us to defeat sin just because we declare we can. The truth is far from this. Coming to Christ was supposed to remind us that we NEED a savior. We NEED to be saved because we were UNABLE to do it for ourselves. It is this realization that we need outside help from God to defeat the sins FOR us, that finally enables us to see victories in our lives. Our victories over sin only come to us as gifts. We can no more achieve them on our own than we could achieve the ability to fly like birds on our own. And the entire point of scripture was trying to point this out to us. God knows we cannot defeat evil. He knows we are a slave to it. So He setup a plan to do the work of redemption FOR us. He would do all the heavy lifting. We would reap all the benefits. All we have to do is accept the gift He offers. Christ is offering us an escape from sin, not an excuse to sin. But to shatter our ideas of self, of control, or a work ethic that is bound to achieve results – is a humbling experience. Too many proud Christians think the solution to defeating evil lies in what they do. If they merely pray more, read more, work harder for the poor, at the very least they will be too busy to sin. Everything about their salvation lies in what “they” do, very little in what God does. Still other Christians have a form of blindness in thinking their salvation is a partnership with God. They believe it is a 50:50 effort where they do as much as they can, and then God does the rest. But if they have not done “their” part, then God will not do His. Whether a Christian believes he can do it all on his own, or is some percentage sharing effort with God; both are destined to failure and the need for more forgiveness. Real results can only come when we begin to let God open our eyes and begin to show us what we need to see.
The Apostle John describes the condition of Christianity well before the end of time in his book of Revelations chapter 3 and verse 17 where what we believe about ourselves is that we have come to know it all, we are rich, and have need of nothing. But in truth our condition is poor, blind, and naked. So how is it that the truth of our reality is not reflected at all in what we think about how we are? How could perception be so out of whack with the truth? I believe it originates in our complacency with an imperfect existence, relying only on forgiveness to see us saved at the end of time, rather than reformed in the here and now. Our self-induced efforts to achieve perfection have failed for so long that we cannot look around and find very many genuine Christians. Ones whose lives are alive with faith and recreation, whose actions of love are overflowing to the point where they cannot be contained. Oh sure it is easy to look around see an act here or there, but to find a level of consistency that rules every day, day in and day out, for as long as we live – is nearly unheard of. Yet such was the life of Christ. And after His ascension, it was nearly that way for each of the disciples whose lives were forever altered by the time they spent with their Lord, each finally learning to submit to Him in full. Peter was known for great acts of faith and miracles, to the point of dying a martyr’s death. But none of this happened until he was broken in humility by his denials of even knowing Christ when it mattered most. After this happened, he dared not even answer Christ’s question of whether he loved Him or not, saying only … “thou knowest I love thee”. (John 21:15-17) Instead of boasting of his willingness to die for Christ, he deferred to what Christ “knew” about his love. It was the difference between Peter relying on his own strength, and relying on Christ instead.
But in the world today, no one hears of a modern-day Peter, no one even expects it. The best we seem to be able to do is field a particularly good pastor, or evangelist, or television spokesperson. We seem to be good at speaking about Christ, but not living the life of a Peter who heals the sick no matter what they are afflicted with, and preaches with such vivid personal testimonies as to convert thousands in a day. We have lost the power of the gospel because we have learned to deny it to ourselves. Instead of accepting the spiritual gifts God longs to give us, we keep self in the forefront. We attempt to take credit for the spiritual victories God gives, and thereby reinforce our delusions that we “can” do it ourselves if we just try hard enough. Peter’s life changed when he let Christ change it. It took breaking him before he was ready for the work. So too, it must be with us. We must come to see that our condition is not so rich as we think it to be. Instead of having need of nothing (in a spiritual sense), we are indeed poor, blind, and naked. We must ALLOW Christ to give us spiritual wealth. We must ALLOW Christ to open our eyes, and cloth us with the white robes of HIS righteousness, not our own filthy rags. It is the gifts of Christ we must learn to receive, not continue to attempt to earn. But it all begins with a recognition of where we are. It begins with Christ acting for us. It will end this way as well; and it can begin today. Our lives can be so altered by the ever present love of Christ, that we too can become like Peter, or better, like Christ Himself – perfectly reflected through us. As this work happens our blinders will come off, and we will begin to see truth clearly. Only then will our lives begin to reflect harmony with the will of God. Only then will true obedience be possible in deed and in spirit. And only then will it be natural to us, as we are finally and fully remade in the image of Christ.
Friday, January 20, 2012
But to measure love within our current frame of reference, or meager expressions and feelings, is akin to measuring life itself defined by the limitations of our current surroundings. Life was meant for more, and will someday be measured better. Love too, is so much more than what we have begun to scratch the surface at knowing. It is like asking a two year old child to describe advanced calculus; the two year old has a vague understanding of numbers (i.e. they would rather have 2 cookies than 1 cookie), but advanced calculus? We have a vague understanding of how love works, but are nearly as dim as the two year old of just what it all means. Yet even though our perceptions may have been stunted by evil, they are not completely gone. Take for example the life of a well desired puppy; the puppy goes home to his new family and is showered with love and attention. As he grows he develops a “personality” of his own. But the reason why dogs may be referred to as man’s-best-friend is that despite their limited brain capacity or functionality, they do seem to know how to love. They are loyal, caring, attentive, protective, desire companionship, enjoy our company at play, and from time to time wish to cuddle next to us and express affection. The family pet may never perform a single advanced higher learning achievement, but incidents that show love are in no short supply. Love then is not limited by intelligence, or the lack of it, it can be reflected in simplicity as well as complexity.
The expression of love is not confined to a single dimension. We love our spouse differently than we love our parents, our children, our siblings, or our friends. Each object of our love has a different method, or means of expression, custom suited to the object we name. For instance, even within the relationship of love between parents and children, each child is different; therefore the relationship of love between a single one of the parents, and a single child is expressed a bit differently. It is not to say there is a favorite child any more than there is a favorite parent. The love exists for all, but is expressed uniquely to each. Those who have ever been “in love” with more than one person over time, will attest that even the love they feel romantically is different from one former interest to another. The expression of love is different because the object of love is different. We may remain largely the same, but each unique object inspires us differently, as we inspire others in a unique way to express love to us. While there may be commonality in how love is expressed by definition, upon close examination, each relationship of love is truly as unique as those who engage in it.
So how then do we define love? Scripture defines love by defining God as love. In John’s first letter (1 John 4:7-12) the disciple writes of how integral love is to God, how that to love reveals the indwelling of God, for God is Love. The infinite, omniscient, omnipresent, all knowing God who has the power of creation, existence, and constructs of physics and reality – is summed up as nothing more than “love”. Perhaps all those other characteristics of God are the results of a better understanding of love itself, rather than the other way around. Perhaps concepts like the laws of physics, or even our realities, are better defined as by-products of love than by any other method. Regardless, our God is consistently defined throughout Scripture as the true God of love. It is interesting that in his efforts to counterfeit and replace truth with deception, Satan too has invented gods of love. But each of his offerings centers on the expression of lust without concern or care. His ideas of love are warped only by the expression of self-love, or attempts at self-gratification, and so his offerings of false deities reflect these traits. But our God is the true God of love and so He measures it differently.
Where Satan attempts to define love as the pleasing of one’s self to the exclusion of any other concerns, God begins to define love by how we care for another. The Ten Commandments were summed up by Christ (in Matthew 22:37-40) as loving God with everything we have, and then loving another as much as we value our own existence. In fact He states … “on these two Commandments hang all the law and the prophets” or the entirety of scripture to that point in time. Everything about our Bible was to be a definition of love from God to us. His priorities were important as well; loving God must come first, in order that our ideas about loving another can be first understood in the light of loving God. It takes God to change a heart. It takes God to reflect love through a heart. Once we begin to know what it means to love God, we begin to understand why we should not hurt another. Once we understand love better, by learning to know God, we realize why it is “good” not to lie or bear false witness, not to kill or murder, not to steal, not to dishonor, not to lust or defile another’s intimacy, not even to covet. Those acts that are prohibited in the law of love, deny us only an expression of self-gratification at the expense of another. Instead God defines love by what we do on another’s behalf.
In fact, Christ measures love in terms almost beyond our comprehension. Christ values love (perhaps in that sense He is valuing God, as God is love), more than He values existence itself. Love is more important than life. For God the Father would give His only Son, in exchange for a world who called themselves His enemies. God the Father would so value us, the objects of His love, that He would give us the thing most important to Him, most loved by Him, most intimate with Him, His only Son – for we who would never deserve so great a gift. And Christ His Son, would value us so much, that He would volunteer to be this sacrifice, to pay our penalty, to take on our debt, to suffer on our behalf. To save us from the disease of evil that we cannot save ourselves from, our Savior would be blameless, and would suffer and die for us. A life of perfect obedience to the law (reflected by how He so loved each of us He encountered); would stand in contrast to where the idea of self-love would lead – killing the Creator on the cross. Love for us, was more important to Christ, than was His very existence. He would rather risk permanent separation from His Father, for having borne the stain of our sin for eternity, than to see us perish as we deserve. His Father too would risk this separation. But praise God, Love was so well defined in what God did, that permanent separation from baring our stain was not required. Truly love conquered all.
John records Christ talking with His disciples in his Gospel chapter 15, verse 13, saying … “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Again Christ reminds his followers that love is measured by what one does for another, and that love is more important than existence itself. You cannot have perfection absent love. Life is not worth living absent love. There is no reason to create absent love. Love must find its object and cannot exist in isolation. These are the lessons not only of our origins but of our destiny. When every last remnant of evil has been swept from our desire, and every suspect intention is no longer part of who we are, love will remain. It will fill the void our selfishness left behind. It will become the larger part of who we are, that today is mired in the disease and addiction of evil. We will one day be known as love too. But in our case, the love will be implanted, re-created, and placed there by Christ. We will never be the source of love, but we will one day reach a state of perfectly reflected love. We will one day become perfect vessels of love, each unique, each precious.
The parable of the lost sheep found in Luke’s gospel chapter 14 verses 4-7, where the good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to seek out the one, is not just applicable to the Savior seeking the one lost soul, as compared with those who remain behind in church; for in that sense, each of us is that lost soul – so who would be left behind? The ninety-nine, or figuratively the rest of sentient life still bathed in the perfection of loving God (i.e. the rest of the Universe) is what was left behind while our God sought to redeem this single lost world. He left the splendor and perfection of heaven, where the expression of love to others was complete and regular. Every other species, every other creation, every other world beyond our reckoning was still perfect, blameless, and able to see and know God, to worship Him for the love that He is. He did not love them any less than He does us. But despite how much love already was in existence, God would NOT leave us behind, forgotten, discarded. He would so value us, as to risk losing all that He had. He would set aside the vast accumulation of created life prior to us, in order to redeem us from the fate we would come to choose and embrace. He did not value anything He had, more than He valued our redemption. That is a measure of love an eternity will not be long enough to fully understand. Angels will bow their wings in awe of that sacrifice. The redeemed will cast their crowns on the ground in the humility of knowing we deserve no such honor. And our tender God will wipe our tears from our eyes, and raise us up to the redemption He has given.
It is important for us to see just how much God values love, and to what lengths God will go to define love, by living it, or even risking His own existence over it. Only in love, can scripture be truly understood. Only in love, can doctrine of any kind be espoused and accepted. The differences between different Christian faiths have less to do about facts and varying interpretations than they do about allowing love to decline and suffer in favor of self-promotion. We wish to be “right”, more than we wish to reflect love to one another. We therefore do not tolerate differences over ideology because our ego’s become offended. We discard the wisdom another may bring us, because our pride might suffer to accept in humility what we may have failed to see on our own. It is the break down in love that causes dissension and division between denominations and even within them, even to the point of seeing single churches split up. It is the lack of love that drives away the unbeliever. It is the lack of love that would drive away even those who seek redemption. It is the lack of love that distinguishes those who call on the name of Christ, from those who truly know who Christ is. The lack of love defines nominal Christians from genuine ones. It is the trait of love implanted or re-created within us that separates sheep from goats. Christ tells even those who performed miracles in His name to depart from Him (Matthew 7:22), in favor of those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited those in prison (Matthew 25:32-40). Love was the defining characteristic of segregation. It was more important than even the defying of the laws of physics in the name of Christ. A simple expression of concern for another was more important to Christ than the seeking of fame by doing miraculous good deeds in His name. Love matters more than doctrine, more than what we call “truth”.
Notice in his warnings, Christ does not say that sheep would be separated from goats based on who paid tithes and who did not. He does not segregate his flock based on who worshipped on which day, or what you believed occurs when you die, on how you were baptized, or whether you allowed electronic instruments in church at worship music time. Instead He measures His flock by the indwelling of love that finds reflection in how you treated those in need. It is not a measure of money, but a measure of care. “Visiting” those in prison is not the same as donating funds for legal defense initiatives, or seeking to reform laws to make them more fair, electing the right politicians who reflect our ideas of morality, or showing patriotism in how we pursue justice. Christ does not make the distinction that we should only visit the wrongly accused in prison. Instead, He includes all who are in such need. The guilty need redemption. It is those who believe they are innocent outside of prison that are truly at risk.
In espousing “clothing” the naked, He is not merely advocating membership in a Dorcas society in the local church body. It is not just about dumping the bags of aging clothes that no longer fit, or have long passed fashionable display, into the bins provided by the Salvation Army. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not the same as taking a personal interest in someone who needs. There is much more fulfillment in showing love to a person, than in anonymous donations to a bin. It can break the heart of the proud to see gratitude in the eyes of those in need for the slightest gesture of sharing. It reminds us how much we have, and how reluctant we are to part with it. We begin to realize that perhaps we did not need 2 coats, or 5, or ten in our closet, while the homeless stood cold on the street. Perhaps even some of the clothing that does still fit us, is fashionable, and cost too much money – would be better suited on the person who has none, than in our overflowing closets and dresser drawers. We would be glad to empty them on our own, if we saw in the eyes of those we gave to, what it means to them. If we viewed the homeless through the heart and eyes of our Savior, they would each become precious to us. But our distance shelters us from this experience of love expressed, and so our hearts remain untouched, and unchanged.
When we allow the love from God to infect our souls, it changes who we are. We become different. Love has a transformational effect. The effective testimony of witnesses to the redemption of Christ in our lives, have only one thing in common, His love shown to us. It is not merely that our God exists that brings change to our hearts, and reform to our will. It is that He loves us. It is His act of loving, that then causes us to desire to become like Him. It is He who draws us to Him because of His so great love. Love draws; it does not reject or push away. Love does not distinguish based on preconceived ideology. Instead it completely changes the nature of who we are; leading us to see others like Christ sees them. It leads us to want to give. It leads us to want to work for another, want to sacrifice what we own, want to do more than we do. Our hearts, which were once calloused and desensitized at the plight of those in need, become broken at the mere sight of the sorrow of those in need. We begin to empathize as Christ empathizes. It no longer matters to us “why” the poor are poor, only that they are in need and we can help them. It no longer begins to matter to us “if” a person is guilty, or may deserve a break as we learn that we are ALL guilty, none deserve anything, but love gives anyway. We begin to discern that Christ never found a limit in how much He gives to us. And so we begin to see that the more we give to another, the more like Christ we begin to see the wisdom in giving. Fulfillment begins to be defined in the reflection of the love of God to others. And the changed and re-created heart is finally able to obey the command of Christ (John 13:34) to simply “love one another”.
When love replaces judgment as the defining characteristic of how Christians are known in the world, a reformation will begin that will be like no other in all of history. It will bring about the end of all things. It is what God has been waiting for us to begin to realize. The end of the world is not waiting on a new doctrinal revelation. It is not waiting on our ability to persuade, cajole, or enforce a Christian dogma on the whole of the world. It is waiting on us to merely accept the gift of redemption, the gift of Christ to save us from ourselves, and the re-creation of love reflected through us to ALL, without judgment, preconception, or regret. Unyielding love is all the world needs to begin to see Christ clearly in the lives of those who profess His name. One cannot claim doctrinal purity in a voice that is absent the evidence of love. Theology will not covert the world, love will. Ideology will not meet the needs of those who ache, love will. The strength of those who give to others from a sense of duty, responsibility, community, or even guilt, will eventually fail. Human strength is simply not sufficient to meet the needs of so many in our world. But a reformation of who we are, that begins by allowing Christ to re-create who we are, allows us to tap a strength of divinity embraced by our weakness. We can become more than we are. We gain motivation we have never had before, strength we know we are simply not capable of. And the reformation begins. Church becomes a place of family, where the bonds of choice are as great as the bonds of blood. Judgment becomes a word we leave only to God. Acceptance becomes the mantra of Christianity. Not the acceptance of evil within us, but of the escape of evil that only comes from Christ, and can only be affected by Him. Therefore we leave the salvation of other guilty souls to the same Christ, who saves our own. We judge no one else for the evil we might recognize in them, and instead focus only on prayer that the evil is removed from us and them. And like Christ, we love them all. Those who society rejects become those who we begin to love. Those who the church has formerly condemned becomes those who we now only long to love. No sin separates us from source of Salvation, so no sin can separate us from showing love to another. Unyielding love that simply will not be denied; in this alone can a genuine reformation be found.
Love is in our origin, and in our destiny. Love is the basis of our religion, and the defining characteristic of the God who is its author. Love is the reason for our creation, and the method of our redemption. Love is large enough to encompass all, but unique enough to find personal expression in each of us. Love makes our existence of worth. Love embodies what perfection must be. And the study of love will be our eternal pursuit, where we will no longer be bound by any limitations in its expression to another. We praise our God for His love, and we praise Him because He is love.
Friday, January 13, 2012
To define life as merely the state of existence we find ourselves in today lessens its value. How many of us struggle with health problems that cause us discomfort throughout the day? Bad vision, obesity, diabetes, heart weakness, even lack of physical coordination are traits which plague our existence. Immortality without a correction to the deterioration of our bodies would be much less desired. Surely we were not created to exist forever in a state of physical imperfection. Those who have suffered accidents and now have reduced mobility would greatly prefer to have these limitations removed, than to have to continue with them in perpetuity. Is eternal life bound to a wheelchair, compared with eternal life without the need of one, even something that can be compared? And what of those with mental disabilities? It is said when someone else is smarter than you, you do not know exactly how much smarter they are. Surely a disparity of mental abilities between one person and another was nothing that was “meant” to be. And those whose brains have been chemically altered, either by genetics or abuse, and find themselves subject to conditions like schizophrenia, bi-polar, post-traumatic stress, and psychosis would not wish to remain in these states ad-nausea. Being mentally impaired without hope of final relief and reconstruction, instead compelled to remain in this condition forever is not an act of kindness, rather it is one of torture. This begs the question, is death a temporary kindness we are granted until all these things can finally be removed from us, at His second coming. Surely life must be more than merely our present conditions.
Our cycle of life too begs examination. We are born. In this state we are completely helpless, completely dependent, with minimal cognitive abilities and almost a complete lack of physical coordination. As we grow our abilities increase. As we exercise our minds and bodies we become able to accomplish greater and greater feats. Our social interactions lead us to marry, procreate (continuing the cycle), and then to age greatly. The older we become, our minds and bodies begin to suffer from aging. Eventually we become unable to perform the physical achievements we were capable of in our youth. Over time our mental abilities can become impaired. Eventually the decay will overtake us, and should we be lucky enough, we will die of old age. Where in this process can we say “life” begins? Is the quality of our existence any less because we are no longer brand new at birth, or able to feed ourselves and go to our own bathrooms, or having just graduated from high school, or college. Are our lives incomplete until we are married, have children, turn 40, 60, or 80? At what age is the termination of our lives preferable to the continued existence of it? Our society condemns suicide as we generally view the potential of a life as having greater value than its termination. Yet our positions on suicide begin to muddle when a terminal illness is introduced, with pain that will only become greater over time, and death is a certainty anyway. Confronted with this situation in others, we begin to have sympathy. Confronted with this situation in ourselves it becomes an entirely different matter. Surely our lives were not meant to be defined by its cycle.
But let us propose as Lucifer does, that we should be able to exist and live eternally, without any mental or physical impairments, in a state of physical perfection, with nothing inherited that might cause us difficulty. Aged to the perfect age, whatever that may be, unbound to wheelchairs, daily regimens of pills, or even a pair of eye glasses or contacts. At this point our existence would only be defined by our choices, instead of our conditions. It was in this state that Adam and Eve were created. They were unbound to physical or genetic limitations or predispositions. They were free and absent any evil. It was their choices that brought evil into their existence. And with evil came pain. Evil brought death. Evil predated our original parent’s genesis; it began with the choices Lucifer made in heaven. He explored the idea of serving himself, rather than others. He became aware of his own beauty and instead of recognizing this as a gift, he came to think of it, in distinguishing terms to set himself apart from others, and eventually superior to others.
Pride and self-interest, combined with a lack of trust in the counsel and warnings of God that pursuit of these ideas would bring about the definition of pain and death led to what we know of evil today. It reached a point where war took place, the first war. It was fought in heaven itself, between Christ and His loyal angels, against Lucifer and his followers. It ended with Lucifer being cast out of heaven. War is nearly the final result of the existence of evil. The actual final result was the murder of God on a torturous cross of Calvary. What began as mere pride and self-obsession ends in killing God. Lucifer did not suffer from genetic decay or the negative predisposition of his progenitor. Lucifer was not plagued with physical infirmity, disease, or mental disability. He lives, or exists, only with his choices. He proposes this is the only fair way to exist, and you should be able to join him in this state. But his choices do affect his existence. He is now incapable of joy as you would define it, love as you would define it, peace as you would define it. Instead he takes delight in causing pain to others, death to others, suffering to others. While he is not physically infirmed, he has no problem seeing to it that others are. His mind has been irrevocably altered by his choices, to the point where killing Christ seems like a good idea. To him the death of the source of love, looks preferable. Even in a state of physical perfection, and without the predisposition of mental infirmities, this could not be defined as “life” anyone would want.
No, scripture defines “life” differently. In the gospel of John in chapter 17 and verse 3 we read Christ saying … “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Our God, our Savior, defines eternal life as “knowing the only true God” and in knowing “Jesus Christ” who the Father has sent. In this definition, the number of years a person has existed are meaningless. One could live 20 years, or 20,000, and still find they are not complete in their “knowledge” of God. It is the process of coming to know God, that then defines what eternal “life” truly is. It has nothing to do with our current state of existence. It is not limited by our current physical impairments nor will it be altered by removing them. We can begin to know God now, and continue to know Him, in heaven throughout eternity. We begin to know our Father God, by seeking to know Jesus Christ, His Son, and tangible example in our world today. In fact just a few chapters earlier in the gospel of John, in chapter 14 and verse 6 he records Christ saying … “no man comes to the Father, but by me.” It is impossible to approach the throne of perfection without the intercessor of our Savior Jesus Christ. Our minds, our choices, our physical limitations are all things that must be recreated by Christ in order for us to be in harmony with God. Like Lucifer, our lives have been warped by our choices to embrace evil. We do not see clearly. We do not want the right things. We think bad things are good ideas, until the disease of evil can be removed from our minds. It is then we can begin to come to God and not find ourselves seeking for rocks to fall on us to shield us from His glory and perfection. When brought into harmony with God by the saving work of Jesus Christ, we find ourselves at peace with God, and in sync with His desires, plans, and intentions. But this work must be done in us, and by Christ. We do not perform it ourselves, by the power of our wills, or by the number of our good deeds. It is a work of recreation that only a creator God can and will do. “Life” then is defined as the process of coming to know both Jesus Christ and His Father who sent Him. Outside of this definition, existence is meaningless.
But if “life” is defined as coming to know God, what distinguishes my life from yours, or any other? Is there a difference between us and does it have meaning? First begin by accepting that time has no relevance in our general definition of life. Christ spoke of “eternal” life, that is to say life without end. The process of knowing God is gradual and unending, not immediate and definitive. How could one possibly hope to know all there is to know about a God who is NOT stagnate. Our God creates. We are a living example of the fact that God’s love finds new ways to express itself. Lucifer might have thought he knew everything there was to know about God, but our introduction to the universe, proved that theory wrong. The existence of humanity stands as a reminder that our God creates. As such we may come to know a definitive body of information on say for example our moon, or our solar system, or perhaps even our galaxy as taught by Christ Himself in the eons of time we spend together in heaven, but our vast accumulation of knowledge is a drop in the bucket of our universe at large. Who knows how many other sentient species exist beyond the sight of our eyes, and how long it might take to come to know God better by understanding them all. Just to understand our God through His creation of angels may take millennia. To know God through the personal recollections of Moses could take years, and years for him to learn of God through my personal experiences. Even if somehow we were to catch up our knowledge base with everything that exists today, perhaps as the angels have done, the idea that our God creates should give us pause that the process of knowing Him will ever reach a conclusion. And perhaps vice versa?
How many of us think we truly “know” our spouse or significant other? It seems that no matter how well we know them, or how long, people find a way to surprise us. It is because as we grow, age, and have experiences that influence us. We become altered by what we encounter. It affects our thinking, our desires, and ultimately who we are. Take for example the first encounter a young child may have with chocolate ice cream. Prior to this first experience, a verbal description seems hardly adequate. But upon tasting it for the first time, either a like or dislike is formed, and we decide whether we wish to repeat this experience or not. Your spouse probably knows whether you like chocolate ice cream or not, but how many experiences are you yet to have where it comes to foods you have never tried? And so how many more preferences might you develop over a 30 year period of time, let alone in the perfection of heaven over countless ages, with ingredients native to an entire universe to sample. And this is just an example as it has to do with diet, a small facet of who we are. The same holds true of poetry, art, music, and philosophy. It holds true with how a person loves, each unique, each of value. It holds true with talents and aptitudes. Our uniqueness is born of a creator God who saw to it, that no two of us would ever be completely alike. Even identical twins are distinguishable from each other, in looks though the differences may be slight, as well as in character where despite commonality, a unique person emerges. Not only is this true in our age, but it stands true across the ages. We are unique constructions from Adam till now, and for any generations that remain; each with unique traits, and physical appearances.
Our uniqueness then is not random, but by design. And if our uniqueness is by design, then purpose is implied as well. Purpose that was uniquely intended for each of us, outside of the constructs and limitations of time as we know it; purpose intended not only for the life we know in this world, but for a life defined as getting to know God outside of the limitations we see in this one. Each life has meaning. Each life is unique, not just for here, but for all time. As individuals we are created with singularity, where a unique existence was the plan all along. God is not happy, that “many” seek Him out, and begin to learn of Him. He would be happy only if “ALL” did so. To lose even one lost sheep, or one lost soul, brings to Him a sadness only a creating God could fully appreciate. To have to part with a child who refuses to ever come home again, to have to lose a child because to include him would mean he would cause harm to all your other children and himself, is to know a pain that only our God knows. It is so with each one of us, who in our diseased state chooses to remain diseased with evil. We are not casually discarded because His intent for us goes unmet in just this life. No, His intentions for us extend well beyond this mortal existence, we were meant for something more that extends into eternity. But too many refuse to ever see it. They reject the notion they are diseased at all, thinking evil is but a simple choice that they could choose to forego (but never do). They reject the idea that we need the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His re-creative work within us; instead they think we can find “god” by any means of our choosing. They reject the idea that the Bible was given to us for our redemption, picking and choosing what values they might accept in order to find “god”. In so doing, they reject the method of our re-creation, and the knowledge of both Jesus Christ, and His Father who sent Him. They remain diseased and lost, refusing the only viable escape from the disease and pain of evil. And the universe will feel the void of their loss forever.
Think of it this way, many of us are musicians, and some composers. Each new song written and performed brings a new joy for some. While we may greatly appreciate a composer say Mozart for example, it does not preclude our appreciation for Beethoven, or Bach as well. Our world would be a lesser place if Beethoven had never existed, or chosen to write his many symphonies and concertos. Our world would not be at an end because of this loss, life would not cease to exist because of it, but there would be less beauty in it. An appreciation of the works of just one man makes a difference to all. Countless thousands, maybe millions, have enjoyed hearing his works. We are better off because he lived, and wrote, and seemingly fulfilled his purpose here on earth. Upon arriving in heaven, perhaps Beethoven was meant to write thousands more symphonies, perhaps one just for you. Perhaps in the perfection of heaven, with his hearing restored to a level he may never have known, his compositions will become greater and greater such that symphony number 10,000 will make symphony number 9 look like a child’s nursery rhyme. Imagine the loss to the universe at large because Beethoven chooses to reject his own salvation and remain diseased until his final cessation of existence. How much better would the universe at large have been, blessed with his eternal fulfillment of his unique existence. And it may still be so with Beethoven, only God knows. But there are those of us who remain still in the valley of decision, who have not yet decided to accept the gift God offers us through His only Son. It is we who remain the lost sheep. It is we who the universe will miss, if we remain rejecting the only method of our redemption and restoration. A loss that will go unfulfilled for all time. It is why each of us is so important to God, because each of us is eternally unique. Each of us was intended to get to know our God in a one-to-one manner as only each could. All come through Christ, but all get to know Him individually, not as a corporate group, under a corporate umbrella. He knows you as a distinct person, you will come to know Him in the same way. And your unique perspective of God will be something to add to everyone else’s unique perspectives, making the picture more complete.
“Life” that is to say the only existence of worth, is defined in personally getting to know our Creator God without the constraints of time, or physical or mental limitations. We begin our life here, in our present state, and we continue it in heaven in a more perfected state. Our choices are eternally bent towards love of others instead of love of self, as we see demonstrated in our God Himself. Our knowledge is never quite complete as we are always growing, and He will always be a Creator. Our purpose is unique to each of us, always in fulfillment, always finding more to fulfill – a perfect state of bliss that never finds boredom, monotony, or lack of direction. “Life” is not defined by our state of being within this world, but in the terms that have meaning well beyond it. Therefore the momentary interruption of death carries no sting that lasts. Death itself is a concept with a shelf life that will one day no longer be relevant. Only those who refuse His gift will one day cease to exist forever, but those who begin a life here on earth, beginning to know Jesus Christ, and His Father, will see and experience an existence that is beyond our ability to describe. Those who rest in the Lord will one day awaken as if only asleep for seconds, to a life, an existence that has no end, and a joy that is beyond all measure. It is this we were intended for at our creation, and this that our Lord wants to begin re-creating in us today. We have only to allow Him to begin the process of re-creation right here and right now. It is life that awaits us.
Friday, January 6, 2012
True creation would for a musician imply the entirely new invention of a new musical instrument, not a derivative of brass, strings, percussion, or even synthesized sound, but something no one has ever heard; perhaps something no one conceived was even possible to accomplish. Then based on the new instrument, the composer would develop a new series of sounds that would dazzle the ears and enlighten the mind, or better still, stimulate a part of the brain that had hitherto been unexplored causing a chemical reaction in the listeners that they had never experienced. Few musicians aspire to this level of creative expression. I imagine the first harp, the first song, and the first use of voices in singing rather than in merely communicating was the true “creation” of music in heaven. Since its inception, other musical instruments or tools have been added to the repertoire, and voices have been honed according to pitch and tenor to form not only fantastic soloists but excellent combinations in choral form. These innovations have radically improved music from one generation to the next, but in general they are variances on a theme, not true creation. True creation began with nothing prior in existence and then emerged.
There are those in our world who discard the idea of an omnipotent God in favor of “scientific” theory and the natural evolution of time, events, and elements. While we might be able to witness the adaptation of a species of plant life or animal life to find a way to coexist with its environment, the time constraints prohibit us from ever witnessing the transition of one species to another, particularly when we are discussing complex species such as mammals. We can theorize that single celled organisms could eventually evolve into more complex forms of life, continuing to evolve until that level of complexity looks more like the life we see around us. But these theories share a fundamental commonality with a belief in an omnipotent God whether they wish it or not; both rely on the existence of “something” beyond what we measure as space and time. For believers this answer is God, for evolutionists this answer might be the hydrogen atom that gathered together to eventually form the big bang; regardless, “something” must have just always been. For believers we accept that God invented life as we know it. For evolutionists another problem exists in that to date, no combination of periodic table elements has ever produced a living organism of any kind. So further speculation exists within the scientific community that certain gases could exist in certain conditions to form proteins that might somehow congeal into the first living organism, yet these hypotheses remain incomplete and thus far unable to be proven. For life as we know it to have evolved from the nothingness of space and the combinations of the hydrogen atom (or God particle) that formed the big bang is perhaps a greater miracle than anything described in scripture. Yet for some this line of reasoning is easier to accept than to have to believe we owe our existence to something greater than ourselves.
The first angel that came into existence did so, because our omnipotent God chose to express Himself creatively. New sentient life was formed. There were no-one else’s ideas to borrow upon for this inception. There were no predated materials to use or amassed knowledge to vary once again. It was genesis. It was origin. It was non-existent one moment, and then existent the next. Perhaps the plans for what was to be included in the advent of angels took time beyond what we could measure. Perhaps the development or plans to include senses occurred first; perhaps they were created and integrated into sentient life over time. But think about the simple sense of smell for example. Different material combinations of life and decay as we know it producing an odor that is invisible to the eyes, yet causes both pleasant and unpleasant reactions in our brains to the stimuli. Indeed the loss of our ability to smell radically reduces our enjoyment of food, which in itself warrants a degree of scrutiny as a process that must at one point have been invented by God as well. The sense of smell is not required for life to exist. But it makes life better. The same applies to sight, sound, touch, and taste. While there are commonalities between life in the various species in our world, scripture teaches birds and fish predated animals, which predated man; commonality between them, but such a difference between a “living” tree, and a “living bird”, and a “living” man. We believe the tree understands nothing, the bird understands little, and man is capable of understanding much. But all were created from the mind of our God who understands everything.
And beyond that which we can reasonably measure are things created by God that we are only beginning to understand over time. Concepts, like love, mercy, forgiveness – and their contrasting counterparts like selfishness, hate, pain, and death. The knowledge of the latter was something we were not meant to know, as this knowledge could only be found in experience on our part. Yet to define love escapes concrete terms. There are many definitions, or forms of love. Parental, fraternal, romantic to name a few; love is defined as more than just feeling, but in actions, deeds, and words as well. Love seems impossible to measure fully though the living embodiment of love in the life of Christ serves as a testament to what love truly is. Believers are aware that we do not deserve the gift our God chooses to give us. We have done nothing to warrant eternal life or bliss of any kind, rather our deeds often cause pain to ourselves and to others. If left to ourselves our existence would be nothing but a series of pain upon pain until death itself was the only release from the suffering we cause ourselves and others. Life itself is not worth living absent love in all of its forms. Yet love is not required under theories of evolution, yet ever present under beliefs in a loving God.
It appears that our ability to be “original” or to pro-create is another reflection of being created in the image of our God. Each of us has a unique combination of skills, aptitudes, interests, and abilities that when applied can produce new variations or combinations that are unique to our expressions to the world. This too, the desire and ability to vary and invent, seems to be something instilled within us by our truly creative God. It appears our God does appreciate individuality and uniqueness in the life He creates. We each have unique DNA, unique retinal scans, and unique fingerprints to name a few. While God created mankind, He did not simply create a master model such as Adam, with many cloned duplicates. Instead we are created male and female, and each of us with unique purpose, and unique individuality. We all function the same, eat the same, sleep, love, etc., yet we remain distinct from each other. Even the animal life reflects this distinction. We love our pets, yet no two of them have ever been exact replicas of each other, in looks, personality, etc.. – each of them is unique as well.
It is important to understand that our God is more than love, and more than omnipotent, and more than simply the being we worship. It is important to know that our God creates. He did not begin creating with us, as angels predate us, it is almost a certainty that other sentient life may exist prior to us as well. Therefore it seems reasonable that when evil has ended, humanity has gone home to be with our God, and the eons of time begin to pass; the process of creation may begin anew. But for now, in this world, in our time, in our lives – creation or perhaps better stated re-creation is something all of us require. Knowing that God is able to create and re-create is critical to our present and our future. For our embrace of evil has warped the designs of God at our inception. We have perverted the perfect designs of our origin and those effects have only intensified over time. Thus it is with evil; it always begins small, and grows slowly and insidiously until it is beyond comprehension. It is so with us. The disease affects more than actions, it infects our motives, and our thinking – blinding us to truth, causing us to desire our condition and reject help or relief. Evil is a slavery unto itself, which binds the heart and mind until the hands and feet comply with regularity.
If we are to escape our condition, it will require God to re-create within us, what we have given away by choice and repetition. We need new hearts, new minds, and new motives. We need a restoration of even the desire to be better than we are. Our faith itself must be planted within us as it is no longer native to our thinking or desires. God must be the author of our faith, lest we never find even the possibility of belief to come to us naturally. Our natural inclinations are not towards perfection or heaven, they are away from them. We, like the tempter who first ensnared us, seek first things to please ourselves, not others. Our pursuit of self leads us away from God, away from love, away from life, and towards pain and death. We are powerless to turn away, or even slow the process. We are addicted. Only God can break this cycle. Only a God who is able to remove and recreate what must be removed and recreated within us can restore us to the design He originally intended for us. If our God is not a creator, then our destiny is assured destruction. If our God did not create our world as scripture outlines in the first few chapters of Genesis, if instead He only seeded life as a process and let evolution takes its course, then our only relief will come at the grave, and our lives are completely devoid of meaning. Those believers who would pick and choose which parts of scripture they choose to believe in or take literally, rob our God of His ability to save us from ourselves through the miracle of re-creation. It is our only hope of deliverance from the condition in which we find ourselves.
Re-creation will reach its fulfillment one day in an instant, but it begins in the here and now. We will not reach heaven, only then to decide we wish to change, only then to decide we accept the gift of regeneration and change God wishes to impart to us. Those decisions to change begin here, they begin now. Lest we accept the deluded ideas that our evil condition is preferable and we can “wait” to find the change God offers, consider for a moment the picture described in Revelation of the lost souls who at the end of all time fall to their knees acknowledging the Creator as worthy, then rise only to try to slay Him and take the city by force. Death is their only release, as even then, they do NOT choose to change, but wish to kill instead. No, if we are to avoid being in this crowd of the unrepentant even in the face of the end of all things, we must begin in the here and now, by accepting the gift of salvation our God offers. It is not the lake of fire God is saving us from, it is the desire to jump in that lake. It is not the final and full release that death alone can bring to the unrepentant soul, it is the ability to learn how to live in the here and now and avoid pain entirely that God wishes to give us. God wishes to give us life. It is our disease that impairs our judgment and makes us wish to avoid this gift or put it off into the future. It is warped thinking that prefers self-mutilation to healing and recovery. And it is only by intervention from our God, that we are even able to make a clear decision in order to be healed and re-created.
But what a difference in the life of one who will submit and accept what he is offered by our God of creation and love. Joy begins immediately. Peace that cannot be touched by the world, or even by disease and death, peace that cannot be understood outside of a life in the process of re-creation begins in the here and the now. Re-creation brings a relief from pain. The world around us may not be any different, our circumstances may not change at all, in fact they may get worse, but what is altered within us is fundamental change for the better. Without the shackles of our slavery to evil, we are able to finally begin to understand the blessing of service to others. We are able to begin to learn what it means to love. We begin to understand that the expression of selfless love to another is the height of joy within ourselves. These concepts are foreign to the enslaved mind. Effort for others looks like work, and unpleasant tasks to the mind of one outside the process of re-creation. We may perform our “good deeds” to satisfy the twinges of guilt our conscience brings us, but take no genuine joy in what we do. Outside the process of re-creation, there is not a real change in “who” we are. Our general desires and thinking remain the same, regardless of our actions. This is why re-creation is so important. It is beyond a modification to our behavior, it is a renovation to our thinking.
If we are to learn to walk streets of gold, but value proximity to God higher than any form of dazzling architecture and perfect environmental conditions, our change must begin here. If it is the great pearly gates we admire, the crowns of jewels we crave, and life absent disease and pain – we are still looking through warped glasses. The things of value in the kingdom of God are only the people there, the life there, the Creator God who is there – the stuff is of little value. Our abilities are not enhanced in heaven in order to make us “super sinners”. We are not there to make us better adulterers who are now an order of magnitude healthier and more attractive. The desire to betray, the desire to acquire, the desire to indulge, will have been removed from us – or we will find ourselves outside city gates waiting a death sentence we long to embrace. Rapes, lust, and murder lay outside of heaven not within it. The citizens of heaven live to serve. They live to please another. They live to bring joy to another without a single thought of themselves in the process. They give freely, willingly, and with great joy at the ability to give. These are not natural inclinations in us today, but they can begin to be. Not through the power of our will, but the acceptance of His ability and desire to re-create us anew. Rebirth is something that can begin here and see its fulfillment at His second coming. It does not start there, it ends there. It reaches fulfillment there, but begins right here and right now. This is why creation, and re-creation, are so critical to our salvation, both here and for eternity. Let us choose to embrace it immediately and with vigor.