Friday, February 24, 2012
For too long many Christians have espoused the idea that only isolation away from sin will help to keep them clean from it. The idea being that a recovering alcoholic is less likely to drink in church, than in a bar. If one avoids going to a bar, or near a liquor store, then one may avoid drinking again, or at least stand a better chance at it. This seems to make sense. But what happens when overindulgence of a chemical is not the sin we discuss, what happens when lust itself is the culprit? Under this kind of logic, one would have to avoid contact with members of the opposite sex entirely. But even if a man prone to lust avoids contact with women who attract him, he will still encounter a barrage of images in advertising, media, and the internet that could re-stoke his former passions. Even in the church a heart prone to lust has many objects to find itself in error with. The only way then to deny oneself the opportunity to relapse might be to move to a cabin in the woods, drop off “the grid”, and become a self-reliant hermit. But therein lies the problem with the isolationist approach, it is an attempt to remove the idea of relapse from the work of Christ, and place it once again in human hands. So what then is the alternative?
Surely it makes no sense for a Christian who has been given the gift of removing a certain evil from their lives to maintain a routine that in times past was a pathway to self-destruction. Surely we must “do” something to maintain the gift God has given us? So what might that be? The answer for maintaining our cure, or remaining in recovery if you will, is no different than what it was to obtain the cure in the first place. We must remain willing to be changed, and daily ask to have our Lord continue His work within us to remove every evil from our hearts and minds. A daily commitment to release control to God is our “part” in getting the surgery from our God, and is also our part in maintaining the cure. No other actions on our part would ever be sufficient to keep us away from temptations. The devil has made a career out of defeating mere mortals in the arts of temptation. Adam and Eve were likely much more difficult prey, than you or I who suffer from 6000 years of genetic influences, and a finely tuned marketing machine from which we are unable to escape. It is therefore no more our job to attempt to avoid relapse, than it was to attempt to avoid falling in the first place. Our role remains one of surrender to Christ, nothing more. We must continue to trust in His work of salvation within us.
Keep in mind that part of the cure God offers is not just the cessation of sinful actions; it is the removal of sinful desires. When once an alcoholic, the place where they craved to drink mattered little. In fact most chemically dependent people hide bottles or drugs in all manner of places so that it is available to them “as needed”. Under that level of disease, avoiding a bar or liquor store was no more a cure than was going to church. A person determined to drink, who “needs” to drink, will find a way and a time to do so no matter what other level of distractions exist. But a person who has no desire to drink, one who finds alcohol distasteful, one whose body may even react very poorly if they do drink, is not likely to find themselves drinking in any conditions. In short, if you don’t want it, you probably will not do it. Where before the cure, an entire regimen of time was spent in the pursuit of a drink, after the cure this time is spent in other ways. It is made free by the cure itself. This is the miracle our God performs, not just the ideas of a power of self-control to restrain one’s desires, but a re-creation in the core level of what one wants. In time, the sins we once craved lose their hold over us. We lose the desire for them, and begin to find what we once craved now something that is entirely distasteful to us. This is not just applied to alcoholics but to those who lust, those who perpetually lie, those who gossip, those who over-eat and are unable to change, no matter what our former weakness, the cure remains the same.
We must also remember that not all change is instant and all encompassing. The work the Lord performs within us begins to remove evil and sins one at a time, but does not make us instantly and completely sin-free. The work will one day reach fulfillment in us, but not by tomorrow morning. So it is unwise to believe we have been made completely “perfect” at this moment in time. This kind of thinking places the emphasis all too often right back on self, and inevitably leads right back to failure. The gift of a victory over a sin, is the beginning of a pattern the Lord will develop on your behalf. One after another after another, you will find your former interests and actions giving way to new ones, and to new ways of thinking. Under these conditions the work of perfection is actually being accomplished within you. But as it is, we are slowly made aware of just how diseased we were, and we remain. The more the evil is removed from us, the more we see how deep it ran, and how all-encompassing it was as a part of who we were and still are. It is why scripture calls for us to be willing to die to self. As we receive victory after victory our gratitude to God grows, our worship and praise to Him for what He has done in us becomes far more genuine. It begins to find expression not only at times of worship, but in daily opportunities to love someone else. Those acts of loving another begin to look suspiciously like the acts of Christ in His ministry here on earth; for it is Christ who inspires them, who motivates them, and who allows us to share in them.
The sin we once engaged in, and so desired, is not removed from the world around us. It is removed from heart within us. When gone is our desire to sin, and in its place is a deep seated love for those who remain in sin, it is not relapse we fear anymore, it is failure to share what we have experienced in receiving the victories of God over pain. We begin to lose our fear of temptation, and instead fear only that we are too timid to reach out to those who still suffer from what we once suffered with as well. It is not a condemnation they will require, or threats of a punishment in hell – that is the condition they exist in today. No, our message of effect will be an altered life, a different life, a life that is so filled with love it can now no longer be ignored or denied. The kind of change that Christ brings to the life is indeed a light in darkness that cannot be disputed. The former alcoholic who has no desire to drink any longer has a powerful testimony to those who think themselves in recovery. It is not merely how many days one has been clean, but it is a fundamental re-creation of how one thinks about alcohol itself. The man or woman who in times past knew nothing but promiscuity now finds themselves unequivocally in love and sole fidelity and devotion to their God as well as their spouse has a powerful testimony to all around them. None need ever know the heights of their former indiscretions, but it is the renewed strength of their marriage that will inspire interest in the eyes of others. The former pathological liar, who now finds themselves only speaking the truth couched in love, will have such a voice as the world has yet to hear. The person who formerly was unable to control their dietary habits and now is dropping weight and becoming healthier has a diet plan of divine origin that no other fad or book could ever supplant.
Talking about these kinds of victories in the abstract, or in the lives of those you know, is different than speaking from a passion that comes because they happened to you. When they happen to you, your testimony becomes one of what Christ has done for YOU. It will never be your victory. It will always be His, done on your behalf. Your testimony can never be about what you have conquered for you have conquered nothing, but Christ has conquered everything you needed done. That is the message of hope you can give to others still trapped in weakness you have been freed from. Not how you did it, for you will have no idea “how” you did it – but instead “who” did it for you. In this case isolationism is not required for recovery. All that is required is the genuine daily work of surrender and submission to the will of Christ. As we allow Him greater and greater control within us we begin to lose the ideas of self, and self-reliance. We begin to give Him the credit for the work He is doing. We begin to develop a testimony that actually has meaning and will carry weight. Without the cure, we have nothing much to say. A witness of the changes in others is simply not a compelling enough reason for someone else to seek change. But a personal testimony combined with a life that is evident of change is a hard combination to ignore. Our witness must be lived to be effective.
The work of saving others is not something that requires a push; instead it requires a reason to find it. Do you seek marital advice from a couple who fights more than you do, and is now seeking a divorce? The only thing they may have to offer is what not to do. We do not seek counsel from those we perceive to be worse off than ourselves on the topic we need help with, simply because we believe them to wise people. If they were indeed wise, why do they not simply practice what they preach? But when our marriage is hurting and we see a couple who has been married for many years and has a passion that can hardly be contained, a disposition of charity and giving that hardly has a rival, and a unity that only the Holy Spirit could bring between two people – those are the folks we are going to reach out to. It does not matter if the couple who surrender to God every day thinks of themselves as formal “counselors”. Indeed they are probably not. For it is not the wisdom of men that enables the marriage of pure unity and love, it is Christ alone. But it is that very message, that is just the thing our aching marriage needs to hear. We seek it because we see the difference in their lives more so than what we find in our own. It is how they live that inspires us to seek them out. It is not what they say, but what we see, that makes the difference in who we seek counsel from. This is the nature of the gospel and re-creation, and the reason the world will one day hear it so Christ can return.
Words alone will never rule the day. Words must echo action and be substantiated within them. When they are in harmony with each other, when the will is fully surrendered to Christ, the actions that follow are as automatic as breathing. Our marriage does not magically improve because we wish it would, instead it improves because “how” we love our spouse is directed and altered and increased by the indwelling of Christ in us. Even if our spouse does not share our commitment yet, they will surely notice the changes in how we love them. Love is hard to ignore, harder still to resist. The way we live begins to reflect the way He loves. And it is these acts of loving others that begins to redefine us as His true servants. No other explanation can account for the total transformation of the human heart from weakness to self-less-ness. Instead of having our minds consumed with thoughts of fleeing our former sins, they become engaged in reaching out to those we love. Where we have to go becomes irrelevant. For we do not wander into bars to drink, but only as we are directed by the will of Christ to find that one lost soul who is in need. It is not that we idly hang out in places of former weakness, nor are we there to participate in what we now find entirely abhorrent, but there is nothing and no place we would not dare to go, if a lost soul can be reached. The lost souls will not have reason to seek counsel from those who participate with them in their weakness. But they will have little resolve against a life they knew to be as bad as their own, that is now full of evidence of the freedom that only Christ can offer.
Christ was not found in only the palaces of the rich. In fact He was rarely if ever found there. Instead He was found on “the wrong side of the tracks”, in the bad neighborhoods, where the harlots, the sluts, the cheaters, the thieves, the murderers, in short where the lost were found. Christ was not there to partake in their weakness. He was there to offer them freedom from it. The lost and aching souls of today will rarely be found in the pews next to you. They do not attend church regularly. Instead you will find them at work, at play, at places of disrepute, engaged in things you may have once thought of as “fun” and now you find only as painful. It is there where you will encounter them, in areas of life probably not conducive to church. It is there where they will “see” you. They will take note of who you are and of “how” you love. Will you genuinely care for them, or merely utter inane greetings with no care of the response? Will you be inclined to participate in their weakness or seem to show no interest in pain, and a great relief from being freed from it? Who you are will be evident not only in a church pew, but at work, and at play, and perhaps even in an environment that is not the best. Why you are where you are matters to those in darkness. To sit in a pew once a week to simply try to demonstrate your holiness offers no compelling reason for anyone else to change. But to be there because your joy is unbridled, your testimony must find voice, to serve the needs of those who sit beside you – these are the hallmarks of an altered life, an altered heart, and a change that cannot be denied.
Where we recover will never be a perfect place, until Christ returns and remakes the world anew. But the work of perfection in us can begin here and now, continue if the darkest of times, and find its fulfillment even before He returns, so that on that great day we are able to say … “this is He, the Lamb, who we have waited for”. The work of perfection does not begin on that day, it reaches completion. For those who enter the grave before they are able to see His return, they are resurrected in a state of perfection. But for those who are still alive at His coming, the work of perfecting the character will have already reached its conclusion. Therefore if persecution, and darkness, a world at war, and plagues that encompass the globe could not deter the Lord from finishing His work in us, why should we think our meager temptations could deter Him from starting it right now? The freedom Christ came to offer us, was not from oppression and hardship the world is steeped in, it was from the slavery to self each of us is controlled by. We do not require a sterile environment in which to recover, just a willingness to allow our Lord to make pure the heart within us. We have only to become what He intends for us to become, for He will surely re-create us completely.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
To undergo the change God has promised we must begin by realizing there is no control for us. This process of healing does not occur with us acting as the surgeon, that job is God’s, and He does not need or want our help. We do not set the timelines for how long this process will take. We do not identify the tasks that will need to be performed. In point of fact, we are blind to just how bad our condition is, and were it fully revealed to us in an instant, it would kill us. Instead our job is to let our Doctor do the work only He can do to cure us. We let Him. And frankly we CANNOT understand how He does what He does. He just does it. Our cure is not some combination of known techniques, actions, and prescriptions we could reasonably learn to imitate. He is not trying to teach us how to save others. Instead He asks us ONLY to refer them to the author of love. The work He does within us is one ONLY He can do. For only God can change a heart. Without Him, the heart merely gets older, more set in its ways, more inclined to degenerate further and further into the disease of self service. But under His control, the heart can be re-created, reborn into what He intends for it to be. He cures us individually, not in a group session. Each human heart is reborn through a process of God’s design custom tailored for each patient, according the needs and abilities of each patient. The procedure of rebirth is timed on God’s timelines, not our own. We do not determine how long it will take for us, or how long is should take for us. Nor do we set the timeline for anyone else. What God fixes first, is up to God, NOT up to us. We may think we know where we are suffering the most, or feeling the most pain from, but only our God knows truly what must be fixed and in what order.
Self is a terrible disease. It shows symptoms in the most unlikely places. What is being cured within us is all too often beyond our capacity to see, let alone to understand. All we need to know is that we need a cure, and that God alone can provide it. When Lucifer in his perfection began to question what would be the results of pursuing love to self rather than serving others, he had no idea where it would lead. God tried to warn him, tried to counsel him, tried to show him the value of loving others instead of loving self. But Lucifer would not trust God. Instead he trusted his own wisdom. He simply had no knowledge of evil, so he refused to believe that evil was even possible. It did not exist prior to that time so how would loving self bring it about now? We face the same exact question. The work of healing the sin sick heart is something we simply cannot dissect and understand. If we are to be healed, we must trust that God can and will heal us. We must trust despite our complete LACK of wisdom on the topic. In effect we are trusting our lives to God, our futures to God, our hearts to God. We are putting everything we have into the hands of God. But we also have the benefit of scripture, history, and the testimony of those He has healed before – He has never failed. And His entire desire, His entire wish, His entire yearning is for nothing more than to cure YOU – to fix YOU – to bring YOU home again.
To undergo the change is to let go. To start to heal is to quit entirely looking at the faults of others. Our hospital was not meant for one poor patient only, but for the entire world. All are hurting and in need of the cure. What the patient in the next bed is doing has nothing to do with you. What our doctor God does for him/her is between God and them. The symptoms of the disease of self that you can so easily see in the lives of others are not a license for you to start practicing medicine. They are a cry for help to our Lord, the only doctor who can heal them. We all hurt. We all ache. We are afflicted with the disease of self. Each may show different signs of our affliction, and may be relieved of them at different times – but only through the work of our God. We are free to talk about the wonderful work our God does for us, but we are not free to pretend that we are the doctor. To criticize another sick person for being sick, is the height of hypocrisy. Instead we should take tremendous joy in the fact that we are in the process of undergoing the change, and praise God for EVERY single other sin-sick soul who shares the same road – no matter where they happen to be on it at the time. To obsess of the sins of another, or even the sins of our own, is to take our eyes off the cure and keep them squarely on the disease. Nothing is gained by this. Instead we must let go. We must change the focus of our eyes away from the disease that would drag us down, and place it on Christ who is here to remove it from us. We must let go and trust.
The work of removing the desire for evil from our hearts is a work of great mystery. Like the light bulb that turns on when I flip the switch, I cannot begin to fully explain it. This is because I am NOT the one doing the work. God is. Sometimes in an instant, sometimes over a period of time, I find that something I once treasured in indulging myself in no longer has any appeal. I simply do not want it anymore. It is impossible for me to explain why I am no longer addicted to the very thing I craved just yesterday, but it is so. And with such a radical change, comes a radical change in thinking. All the time spent in obsession, all the effort spent in pursuit, is now gone. It frees me. I have tons of time I did not even realize were spent obsessing about my former desire. Without the chains to bind me to evil, I am free to see something more than evil. I am free to see how the power of love has changed me. For it is because He loves me that He changes me. It is love alone that motivates my God, and perhaps love alone that empowers Him. It is impossible for me to describe to you, “how” this works, because it is not my work. It does not come because I work for it. It does not come because I deserve it. It does not come because I wish it would. It comes because I allow it to occur. It comes because I am willing to let the Doctor change me, no matter what that may mean. It comes because I ask Jesus to do the work He has promised to do, inside of me, wherever that may lead. Then He does. He really does. Not just words on a page, or chapters in a Bible, but here and now, inside me, inside my heart, inside my mind. I experience a freedom that I cannot describe adequately in language or printed page. There is an exuberance that comes when the chains of evil are finally broken by the only One who could. You will not understand what I am talking about, until you allow it to happen to you. Then you will not be able to imagine how you could have lived any other way.
The transformation Christ offers and performs is life altering. We’re not just talking about a mild reduction in the propensity to sin. We are talking about the complete revocation of some deep-seated core-level personality encompassing addiction you though you could never be rid of. It can change the core of who you are. It can change the core of how you think, what you want, what you need. It alters your perception, your vision, and how you see truth. Scripture opens and has entirely new found truths present that in times past you never understood. You begin to see the love of God in every truth, and realize there is no truth absent love, as there is no truth absent Christ. For Christ is truth, life, and love. There is no other. The reason God declares Himself the only true God, is because He is the only true God. It is no myth, no superstition, no contrived story by power hungry men of ancient days. Instead it is a living abiding truth that carries the power to change your life in the here and now. No need to wait for heaven as the Kingdom of God is come. It is here. It was here in the flesh of Christ and has remained here by the power of His Spirit since His ascension. Our God is still among us, if only in Spirit instead of in flesh. He is still able to inhabit the willing heart and remake it into His image. He is still able to restore our brokenness and remove our disease, and longs to do it right now. The effect of the cure changes everything. Nothing you will ever read, see, or experience will be same again. The effect of witnessing Christ save you from yourself, from the evil you have been slave to, is the fundamental basis of the entirety of the gospel. Nothing else ever written can compare to the work done inside of you. For to you, this is heaven, this is salvation, this is the reconciliation of you to your God. What else could possibly compare with it?
A single change opens the eyes to what else is possible, and what else is needed. As we are too often blinded to our disease, we fail to recognize how severe our current condition is. We think if we can just let Christ give us the victory over some cherished sin, that we will be “pure” once it is gone. Wishful thinking. The removal of any sin is life altering, but with the removal of evil in one form or another, often comes a better ability to see deeper problems we were not even aware existed there. The man who is given the victory over an adulterous affair and praises God for it now finds the deeper problem he faces was objectifying women and spending a lifetime of only pursuing them like so many other possessions to toy with. Upon being released from what he thought would be his most pressing sin, he finds the entire way he has viewed women must now be re-created and rethought. As he begins to be given the gift of seeing a woman not as a thing but as a precious soul who our God loves, he begins to realize the lust that drove him to pursue his former “objects” was merely another form of self-gratification that must now find its end upon the surgical table of our Doctor God. As the lust that enslaved him and drove him into the affairs which wrecked his relationships is now removed, he begins to see what it truly means to love another ahead of himself. Pleasing others begins to become more important to him than he ever imagined it would. Learning how to truly love someone else begins to show fruit in his relationships. His parents, his children, his siblings, his spouse all begin to benefit from the changes God is working in his life. His marriage becomes something he never dreamed it could, nor could his spouse. What is NOT possible for man, is child’s play for our God. We have only to allow Him to do it in us. When once a change is made, an entire chain of events begins. It does not matter what kind of symptoms we were showing, all evil is traced back to some form of self-service, self-indulgence, self-gratification. When evil begins to vacate our lives by the power of God, we see where it had deeper roots and what must be done next by God to see it fully gone from us.
Too many Christians have looked forward with longing to the twinkling of an eye at the last trump of God to see the sin within them removed finally and fully forever. Those who now sleep in the Lord will awake to such a full transformation. But those who are alive today, need not live in pain until that great day. Instead we are free to seek a cure in the here and now. For how can we truly be saved, if we are unwilling to allow ourselves to be saved? The beauty of heaven, and absence of disease, and end to death, is NOT our ultimate reward – they are trinkets. The real gift our God is offering us is an existence without evil, a life not bound in chains to serving self. That is salvation. That is our true reward and His greatest gift to us. And that is not something we have to wait to receive. We can begin today. It is not the threats of eternal death, or burning in hell that causes the soul to change. Threats bare no fruit but to scare. Love however changes the soul, and gives one the relief of a life spent in the “hell” of a selfish existence. Those bound in a terminally degenerative condition will ultimately seek the release of death on their own. No one wants to live in a state of torture forever. And this is all an existence of evil has to offer, ever increasing levels of pain, until death alone is thought of as a better choice. That is the punishment, the cause and effect, that Christ is offering to free us from now. Why would we ever even consider delaying that cure, putting off that effort? It makes no sense to choose to live in bondage to pain for just a while longer before we finally and grudgingly accept happiness and joy in its place. The idea of waiting for heaven to seek a cure is one the devil avidly markets to Christians today. It is only another warped, misguided way of thinking, that blinds one to pain they inflict on themselves so as not to seek a cure that could be implemented immediately.
But while the healing can begin immediately the process takes longer than an instant. Not all evil is removed from us in one felled swoop until Christ does return. Instead, as we begin to trust Him and allow Him to remake us, He carefully and gently begins the work of removing one sin, and one desire for evil at a time. This process is by design. When it begins we do not fully know how much work He has yet to do. It takes time to remove every instance of self-focus from our lives. It also takes trust that builds with Him more and more as we begin to allow Him to do this work within us more and more. If it were over in an instant, we would not appreciate what it means to learn to trust Him. To learn by experience what it means to let go, and let Him save us from ourselves – this is the process of redemption and it is not one that can be rushed to fit our own ideas of need. As it progresses we find ourselves yearning more and more for an end to the evil we see in ourselves. Where once we thought to prolong our days to “enjoy” our evil, we now begin to pray in earnest to remove the evil from within us right here and right now. Daily we begin to follow the example of our Lord who sought first to seek His Father’s will and not His own. If our perfect Savior submitted Himself daily to the will of His Father, how much more do we need to do the same? Our lives are built one day at a time, so must be the process of our healing. We must daily entreat the Lord to do His work within us, and then release any thoughts of control over to Him to allow Him to do what must be done. As this work begins to show fruit, He gives us victories over sins and desires we could never hope to have undone. This gives us hope and knowledge that even more can be done. And so the seeds He sows within us to trust Him take root and the work He does grows and over time takes over our entire being.
The change itself is a paradox. While becoming ever more evident in how we think and what we want, our actions just seem to fall in line with our new found ideology and motives. We cannot explain why. While we cannot measure our success we cannot seem to avoid it either. Obedience to the commands of God is not possible without the transformation of rebirth in Christ. What does it mean to truly “keep” the Sabbath, or to truly “honor” our parents? No list would ever be complete enough. No amount of don’ts could ever fully encompass it. But when a heart is recreated in the love only Christ can make, honoring and loving our fellow man becomes a natural part of how we think, and of what we want to do. We long to have time to spend with our God, in worship and gratitude, but also in actions of love intended for those He longs to reach. “Keeping” the Sabbath becomes way more than a mere ritual or set of traditional actions set to predefined schedules – it becomes a living embodiment of worship that loves the un-loveable more than words could possibly express. Our parents become a treasure to us whose value we finally begin to realize. Our children become more prized to us than we thought possible before. And those we used to condemn for carrying the signs of sin just a bit different from our own, are now valued, loved, and needed at our sides in order that we dare not lose them to the pain of an existence away from the source of love. Love alone rules the thoughts, the motives, the intents and therefore the deeds. Love, not of human origin that is frail, fickle, and easy removed – but love that comes from God reflected through us where the source is Him. A love that never tires, fades, or loses interest, but instead grows and breeds more passion that will never let us go. We believe ourselves filled beyond what we thought possible, only to find it grows again tomorrow. We wish to measure our progress only to find we are farther along, but still have far to go. We find ourselves full of love, but see we still need more love for others. The change itself is a paradox, yet it is.
It is impossible to find truth without recreation. To read scripture to prove a doctrine is the wrong use of our Bible’s. It comes with presupposed ideas and beliefs and attempts only to validate what we already think or have been taught rather than to find the truth He would lead us to. To espouse doctrine without understanding the love that by definition must have inspired it, is to espouse mere ideology of a Biblical theme. Doctrine is meaningless absent love, and cannot be taught properly until the love of the God who stands behind it is clearly seen. Truth is found in Christ, not in the teachings of men. Life is found in Christ, not the pursuits of happiness we so vainly attempt to supplement Him with. Love is born of God and reflected through us, not created from a source inside us. Revelations of this kind are revealed to the surrendered heart, and the surrendered will. They are not new ideas. They have been taught from the writings of Moses, to John, to the sermons in local pulpits of the day. But absent the reformation of Christ in the heart, they are merely more words. Nice ideas are not the goal of the gospel. Great ideals are not the goal of scripture. Actual life altering change is the core of the message of the gospel; change that IS possible, not through work or words that we read, but through a surrender to Christ. The values of Christ are not just aspirations preached to us on the weekends, they can be an intrinsic part of who we are. All we need is the cure. All we need is a daily surrender to Christ, and truth will open to us in His time, using His methods. It is an individual thing, but it is meant for every single individual who has ever walked this earth or will walk it until the day of His return. No one is beyond the redemption He offers. No one is so far gone that our Lord cannot remake them over again. No act is so heinous as to cause the Lord to forsake His work in us, save that we constantly refuse His offer. A life spent saying no to God is a wasted and sad painful life. A life spent trying to heal oneself from the disease of sin, is a wasted sad and painful life. But a life given over to God in a humble submission to His will and not our own, is a life that will change the world. It will begin with you, as you daily allow the Lord to cure you of the disease of self. So let it begin right now.
Friday, February 10, 2012
One of the most dangerous social trends of the day is self-help. The prevailing idea is that if you want to become a better person, you need only put your mind to it and it will surely happen. Christianity too often falls into this same kind of trap by accentuating what “we do” to make our spiritual lives strong. In order to have a better spiritual life we need only … pray more, read more, attend church more, and attempt to witness more. By following this recipe, or one of similar design, “we” will transform our spiritual life into a much more healthy, righteous, and God-like existence. The Pharisees of old had very similar ideas. They too studied scripture, maintained strict adherence to every known (or imagined) spiritual guideline and doctrine. They lived lives of rigid codes and general dedication to the study of doctrine. But when the Messiah did finally come to earth, they missed Him entirely. When Nicodemus sought out Christ, the first words of Christ were the requirement that “a man be born again” in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus believed that his studied life of devotion to the word would enable him to become righteous, as did all his contemporaries. But Christ reveals on He could “make” Nicodemus over again. Only through Christ could Nicodemus be recreated, and this was actually not something new. Instead it was something Nicodemus might have understood from the Old Testament if he had taken perhaps a little closer look.
The “work” of preparation has long been a topic within the Christian community. Somehow, the popular teachings have centered the responsibility on those who seek righteousness to find it in what they do, or in which doctrines they agree with. Neither is true. So then how does one “prepare” to be healed? We recognize the healing itself will be done for us, or on our behalf, so what then is the work of preparation? As we discussed in the beginning post of this section, the initial gift of faith itself comes from God, and it is God who sees the finalizing of His work within us. So how do we prep? If it were a medical surgery we were discussing, then the first step would be a consultation with the doctor. Perhaps there is no difference when it comes to spiritual matters. In fact the prophet Isaiah describes this part of our process very well in his book in chapter one and for our purposes beginning in verse 18 where the prophet quotes the words of Christ Himself saying … “Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord: …” Here is our spiritual doctor inviting us to think and talk with Him about our condition. He continues … “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Well now that seems like a fairly good prognosis by the Doctor, our current condition is dire, it is terminal as represented by the red. Blood is red. Our condition if left untreated will cost us in our blood. Coincidentally the cure for our condition will also require blood, but not our own.
But regardless of our current state, which as God puts it as “ins that are red like crimson”, they shall be “as white as snow”. White in this instance represents a state of purity. The image of pure undisturbed snow is perhaps one of the “whitest” colors found in nature. Apparently, our sins or our actions, our characters, and our motives today – the composite of who we are – is to be made “as white as snow” – a state of purity that is without blemish. This is the goal of our God (our Doctor in this instance), it is to make us pure, to remove our disease, to transform us from the state we are in, into a state of His design. This singular text represents the entirety of the process of salvation laid out before us. Nowhere within these words are edicts about what we are to do to see this promise fulfilled. Nowhere does it state that we must FIRST pay our tithes, worship on the proper day, and abstain from theft, lies, and murder. In fact, our doctor recognizes that our current condition is likely steeped in all these evils. But despite our terminal embrace of evil and adoption of it into the fabric of who we are, our Lord promises that what we are to become is something entirely different from today, and entirely devoid of all the redness we once were stained with. Notice He does not say he will turn us pink, or less red, or perhaps mostly white with a few pink poka-dots. He says as white as snow, or as white as sheep’s wool if you please. A complete renovation is what is promised, not a partial one, not an incomplete one, but one that is in harmony with Himself and with the principles, values, and government of heaven – one that is immersed and obsessed with loving others – like Christ is.
What we do, ONCE we are made white, is follow the edicts of love that has been instilled in our hearts. ONCE this cure has been rendered we would not think to lie, as lying only brings pain to ourselves and those we love. ONCE this cure has been given we would gladly worship God at any time of His choosing as to have the chance to worship Him and thank Him for what He has done for us is always on our minds. ONCE this cure is a part of who we are, our tithe is hardly enough to offer Him, in response to the many blessings He has poured out upon us. Money means nothing, next to cure for evil that has so long enslaved us and warped our thinking. ONCE He transforms us from red stained blood on our hands to the pure white love for others, we cannot pass by the homeless person and not think to share what we have with them. We cannot then see our brother in distress and not yearn to ease their suffering. We cannot ignore those guilty souls who overflow our prisons without hope, but we must reach out to them and let them know, their guilt can be overcome, their lives can be made victorious, not by the power of self-control, but by the surrender of self to Christ. The cure makes a person think differently than they do today. The cure makes a person value different things. It makes them love more and to the extreme. It makes them freed of evil, not free to indulge in it. It breaks the chains of slavery to self and frees the heart to love another. This is what our doctor is promising us. This is the kind of complete transformation He is offering – WITHOUT preconditions.
Christ (our doctor) continues in Isaiah 1, and now verse 19 … “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.” Here it is in a nutshell – until we are WILLING to be healed – we cannot be Obedient to the law. There is no obedience without the cure, without the transformation He has just laid out. Our preparation is not one of actions we take, but of being willing to be healed. There is nothing else. Obedience FOLLOWS willingness, not the other way around. The promise of “eating the good of the land” is actually Christ stating the natural consequences of becoming in harmony with Himself and with heaven. What we value after we have been transformed is measured entirely differently than before we are made pure. In our present state, we value money, power, fame, and ease – but after our transformation – we value people, relationships, love, and making someone else happy. The work we do on another’s behalf becomes a reward in itself. The love we show to our spouse, our children, our family, our church, our communities, and even to our enemies – becomes precious to us, something of infinite value we cannot imagine ever living without again. The “good” of the land is not the gold, precious minerals, fame, or money that evil finds of value – it is instead the charity, the hope, and the faith, and the testimony we are able to share with those who today have no hope or no love. The promise itself is a reminder to us, that our God offers us more than merely what we need to survive. He offers us the gift of participation in the work of redemption, the work of loving others to see them come to the throne of grace, because of the love they simply cannot ignore, reflected by Him through us. The cure changes us. Our part though, is to be willing to be changed. Obedience then follows as the natural results of cause and effect.
Christ continues now in verse 20 of Isaiah chapter 1 … “But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Herein is the warning of the consequences of refusing the cure – death. Notice here too, actions follow choice. If we refuse … and THEN rebel, we will be devoured. The natural consequences for continuing to embrace the disease of evil leads to murder, and to our own death. Every sin, no matter how small, no matter how seemingly innocuous leads us deeper and deeper into slavery to self that will only end in killing God Himself, if we were allowed to do it. The disease of evil is both addictive and degenerative. Lucifer became Satan over time, it was not an instantaneous transition, but it was an inevitable one. Satan the first to participate in evil, the first to abandon love, demonstrated where the path of self-love leads at Calvary. And he will attempt a repeat at the very end of time. The apostle John writes in his book of Revelations in chapter 20, and verse 9 about how at the very end of time, Satan and his followers will encamp around the holy city of heaven and think to take it. Satan is not alone in this effort, all those who have refused, and consequently rebelled, will be with him. It does not say only those who committed murder will be there, or only those who were homosexuals, or only those who were serial adulterers – scripture does not make that distinction regarding the sinners outside the city, any more than it does for those who were forgiven those same crimes that are inside the city. The distinction between the saved and the lost comes down to the choice to be willing to obey, or to refuse and therefore rebel. The type and degree of rebellion is not specified, because it does not matter. Every type of rebellion ends in the same exact place – attempting to take heaven by force, and being willing to kill the Creator of Love in the process. Satan did it once on Cavalry, and he would do it again if he could. Fortunately he does not.
Those Christians who are reluctant to discuss the words of the Old Testament, or who somehow believe God was different with the Children of Israel than He is with us, need to take a closer look at the words of God spoken here to Isaiah. There are countless examples in the Old Testament about how the process of salvation works. But it is very clear here – the process is one of decision. Are we willing to be remade, willing to be reborn, willing to be re-created in the image of God? Or Not? This is the entirety of the preparation on our part, the entirety of the effort on our part, the entirety of the “work” on our part – the rest of it is done by God. God does all the heavy lifting, we get all the rewards. Notice that the restoration God promises us in verse 18 is not set in the timeframe of heaven alone, it begins immediately. As we are willing, we become obedient, and His promise is fulfilled in THIS lifetime. Notice the tense of the verb “BE” though our sins “be” red … they shall “be” white. Regardless of what we are, we will be made into something pure. This is not only about our past, and our failures to date – it is about our present, and our future to come, both here on earth and as it reaches fulfillment in heaven. These words are not a promise about eternal life, or life on golden streets, they are a promise about living in the here and now, and with the absence of sin in our day to day. To be made free from sin is the very essence of salvation. It is the very essence of righteousness. And the only way to achieve it, is to allow it to happen to us. We must be “willing” so that our doctor can deliver on the promise he has made to finally and fully cure us forever.
Friday, February 3, 2012
Evil is the anti-God. God offers us love. In so doing, He gives us the freewill choice to return His love or not. If we did not have the choice, what we offer could not be called love at all. It requires our choice in order that what we offer be a real love. So what God is really establishing is our freedom. We are free to love, and in love that freedom is boundless. There are no limits to how much we can love another. As God has shown us in the life of Jesus Christ, there are no limits to how much God will love us. And it is His choice to love us, as it is our choice to return love back to Him. In the expression of love to others, there are no laws required to follow. There are no prescribed lists we must check off every day, rather our responses and our desires are liberated to bring joy to others as much as our imaginations can conceive. In love there is absolute freedom. But evil is the anti-God. Where God offers us freedom of choice, in order that love can truly be love; evil is interested in no such thing. Evil is all about control, not freedom. Therefore evil has no qualms with slavery. Satan in his embrace of evil so long ago has so been warped that he is no longer interested in your love of him, only in his control over you. He makes no attempt to win your loyalty; rather he makes every attempt to enslave you into his following. It was the introduction of evil into the universe that prompted the requirement of laws. God had to set boundaries to evil in order to help define it, and as a guide for those who embraced it, to see what evil was while being warped by the disease of evil. Where love needs no laws to constrict it, evil requires laws or it would bring non-existence about to everything it touches.
Evil is addictive. Evil is degenerative. The first sin in heaven was not murder, nor adultery, nor homosexuality; it was a break in trust with God. Lucifer began to wonder what would happen if instead of loving others, he loved himself for a while. Seeing his own image and marveling at his own beauty, he turned his natural inclinations to please others inward to see about pleasing himself. God knew where this would lead, and tried to counsel Lucifer to avoid this idea and resume his love to others, not to self. But Lucifer broke trust with God and continued on his path of self-exploration. Upon doing so, he realized there was a difference between Christ and himself. To this point, he had been largely unaware that Christ was the actual son of God, and he was merely the arch angel or angelic leader. God loved all His creation so much, that none perceived a difference in how God felt about them. But in his mind, now beginning to yield the effects of self-pursuits, he became jealous of the relationship between Christ and God. Eventually he became jealous of God Himself, and scripture tell us he thought to become “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). He began to enlist other angels in his newfound philosophy. He pointed out to them, that they should be free not to love God, without necessarily having negative consequences. But this thinking was in error. He refused to trust the God who created him, and thought only to love. He embraced his freedom not to love which no one had ever done. And his path was set. Eventually there would be war in heaven between him and his followers and Christ and his. Lucifer, now Satan, would be cast out forever more. What started as an interest in loving self, ended in war in heaven, later it would kill Christ on Calvary. Evil is both addictive and degenerative.
There is no version of expression of evil that is not both addictive and degenerative. Perhaps the best example of the path of evil is the dead junkie on the side of the road. At one time, that person had a life, a job, a family, and a reason to get up in the morning. But for whatever reason, perhaps to experiment, or to open their mind, or to join their peers, or simply to “feel good”; they decided one day to sample a chemical hallucinogen. And for a brief time, the death of the brain cells and accompanying euphoria gave them a moment of perceived pleasure. In point of fact, they were damaging their own brains and bodies, but were unable to perceive what was really going on. A few repeated incidents of these actions, and their bodies developed a chemical addiction for it. Now their priorities get rearranged by their bodies chemical demands – their jobs matter less, their possessions matter less, eventually even their families matter less. And the need for the drugs becomes greater and greater requiring stronger versions dispensed more often in order to meet the “need” they have developed. It reaches a point where most finally meet their demise through an overdose; ending their lives with nothing else left to lose. A junkie simply cannot just say “no”. A junkie will not refuse more drugs, he will instead pursue them. A junkie trusts no one but the drugs. And without outside intervention, death is the verifiable end that every junkie will meet. This is the very nature of evil. But it is not limited to merely the “evil” of taking chemical stimulants and hallucinogens. It works the same way with every type of evil expression.
Pedophiles, rapists, and various other sexual degenerates do not simply wake up one day, throw out everything they ever knew, and become the degenerates they are today. Instead, it is a process, where appetites are developed over time. It may begin with nothing more than a simple curiosity about sexual expression outside of what God has outlined for us. But like Lucifer’s first questions about love to self, the exploration of sexuality outside of Gods intentions leads to greater and greater deviance from “normal” over time such that the definition of “normal” itself is remade again and again. Eventually the pedophile believes there is “nothing wrong” with what he is doing and it is no-one else’s business. The rapist believes his victims deserve it, and secretly want it, and he derives pleasure from the control (sound familiar) over his victims in the process. Both define societal evils for which both would be jailed if caught. But what is more interesting is that both reach a point where they do not comprehend why their actions are indeed evil. They see them as their version of “normal”. Those folks who are Christians today, and have not reached the point of being a rapist or pedophile, but still think it wise to indulge pornography, or flirtations and innuendo with people other than their spouse, are on the same road, to the same evil, that will cause pain, and eventually death. The difference is that each person sees evil only in the actions of those who are perceived “worse” than they are. At least I don’t rape children, says the serial adulterer. At least I don’t have affairs, says the serial pornographer. At least I don’t look at porn, says the person with great lust in the heart. No matter where they are in the process of evil, they do not perceive it in themselves only in those they believe are worse off than themselves. Part of the danger of the degenerative nature of evil, is that it blinds those engaged in it.
There is only one punishment for evil, as there is only one destination where ALL evil winds up – in death. It is easy to see how a junkie winds up dead. And it is easy to see how a pedophile or rapist might be caught and killed for what they do. But what about a gossip? Or how about someone who is merely arrogant or simply an over-eater? Why should they die for their sins? Satan presents the God of the Bible as looking to kill all those who disobey His laws. He presents God more like his own characteristics than those of truth and love, for Satan has no truth or love left in him. But there is a difference between consequences and punishments. If I run out into the middle of a very busy highway, chances are I am going to be hit by a car. Is it the car’s fault? If I jump off of a very high building, gravity will carry me to the ground, is that the fault of God for inventing the laws of physics, or refusing to alter them based on my own decisions and stupidity? Gravity exists, to pretend it does not, and jump off a building will only offer a few seconds of regret. Love too exists. When we move away from it, we find only evil. As evil is degenerative, it is not content to merely “maintain” itself at some seemingly innocent level. It degrades, further and further into more and more depravity until killing the author of love sounds like a good idea. Evil does not want to be contained by laws, and could care less who it hurts in its endless empty pursuits of self-discovery and fulfillment. Indulging a sense of pride may not seem like much, but it leads to greater and greater self-indulgence – just a quick look at Satan shows exactly where it leads. To diverge away from the source of life can only inevitably lead to death. This is the path of evil.
But the knowledge of evil is NOT enough to prevent or deter it. Logic would dictate that having made this discovery about the nature of evil, one would simply refuse to ever embrace it again. If I know where gossip will lead me to, I simply quit gossiping. The same is true of any other form of evil is it not? Logically it makes sense to simply just say “no” to self. But logic is almost invariably not enough to combat our genetics, and learned behaviors. Saying “no” to one’s self looks like the opposite of fun, it looks painful, ugly, non-desirable. So we say “yes” to me; and the heck with the other guy. Most of us rationalize that by saying “yes” to me, no one else is really getting hurt. But this rationalization rarely reflects reality (say that 3 times fast). Instead we indulge our desires to please self, leading us to make these decisions easier and easier in the future. Much like the hard core drug addict, our brains develop chemical pathways that become habit to us, instinctual, easy, and preferred to the alternative. And very quickly we become the wind-up toys for evil that require little maintenance or encouragement by the evil one. It is natural for us to engage in comparative analysis of evil; in short we gauge evil on a scale that weighs our own evil as negligible compared with the evil of others we know. But all evil leads to the same place, so what is the difference other than where we are on the journey? Knowing how evil works is just not enough for us to defeat it.
There are those who believe they are strong willed enough to decline from doing evil. This might be a die-hard married spouse who despite temptation has never given in to physical infidelity. They may make it all the way to the grave without ever having been unfaithful to their spouse. But upon closer examination, does this reflect a victory over sin, given to them by Christ in recognition of their surrender to Him on this topic? Or is it more likely, that while they have never physically fallen into the trap of adultery, their minds have wrestled with desires to do so, every day of their lives. Modern social norms dictate that masturbation is a “normal” part of life. However self-gratification can rarely be achieved with an “empty” mind. Lust requires an object, even if only in the mind, to achieve its selfish goals. Another social norm is the idea of fantasizing during the act of intercourse. Men and women do not like talking about such things, but engage in it more often than they would ever admit to their partners. In so doing, lust is engaged; love or concern for another is discarded in an attempt to please self. While never actually committing adultery with another person, it is possible to harbor inappropriate feelings, thoughts, and lust on a daily basis that is never seen in physical action by those who believe they have strong will. It is not a victory. It is instead a struggle, and a needless one. What must be changed is not half as much as what we do, or refrain from doing, as HOW we think about it. Our actions merely reflect our desires. If our desires were remade to be holy, our actions will follow suit. If our desires remain impure, our actions will eventually catch up with them. It is not a matter of how strong our will is; it is a matter of recognizing our disease.
Evil is more than a disease of the body, it is a disease of the mind. Evil warps the minds of those who embrace it to believe that what they do is not really evil at all. Evil has a way of rationalizing anything. Most of the dictators and despots throughout history never thought of themselves in those terms. Instead they truly believed that what they did, no matter how horrific it seems to us, was in the best interest of their countries, or people at the time. 6 million Jews murdered in Nazi Germany in the 1940’s and more than one person believed this was a good idea. 6 million more gypsies murdered in the same period and even fewer mourn these deaths today. Yet to listen to Hitler, you would think he was nothing more than a patriot who invented a “solution” to the problems of Germany of his day. We would call him deluded, but examine our own evil on much more friendly terms. After all, we did not kill 6 million anybody’s this year, so we can’t be all bad right? Hitler was not lying when he considered himself a “good” person, any more than you look in the mirror and lie to yourself about your own “good” nature. But all of us are self-deluded. It is a characteristic that marks evil. When evil is embraced it becomes harder and harder to see it as evil. It begins to look more and more “normal”, eventually it looks to us as if the evil we do is actually “God’s will” for us. Scripture might point out our folly, but few consult it to see the error of their beliefs. Instead we open the word to validate what we already think, and evil wins again.
Though it seems unbelievable, there are those who can validate any evil in their lives, by combining various thoughts, passages and ideas from scripture to fit how they believe. Murder is justifiable as self-defense, or to eliminate the infidel, or to protect the honor of God, or in response to another victim of murder. Lying can be justified if it serves the greater good, keeps us from offending our brother, etc. We can break the Sabbath if we are hungry, or helping someone else, or traveling at the time. We pay tithes and offerings only on our increase, if I am in debt, I have no increase therefore I need pay no tithes. Any doctrine, teaching or law that may have been given to us as a gift to eliminate pain from our lives can easily be discarded in “light” of our modernized theology and scriptural interpretation. And as a last resort if the wording is just too clear to dispute, we tone it down, by saying that perhaps the real meaning was lost in translation many years ago by some overreaching scribe who did not copy it down exactly. The net of all this exercise is nothing more than to nullify any counsel that would point out the evil we have come to enjoy embracing in our lives. We do not want rebuke, if it might mean looking at our behavior through the prism of needed reform. It is wonderful to rebuke another, or judge another, or condemn another – but the guy in the mirror is off limits. Evil can rationalize anything.
Self is simply not able to defeat self. We are unable to remove the disease of evil from our minds, or our bodies. We need outside help. The condition of evil is terminal. It leads to death. It is not a light matter or one of inconsequence – rather it is one of life and death. Everything we would truly desire – life, love, fulfillment, compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness – cannot be found associated with evil. Evil only brings their counterparts. To find life and love we must begin with realizing our condition, our disease is one of the mind. It will require a complete makeover, a complete re-do of how we think. We must become someone other than who we are. We must be reborn, remade, or recreated. The sooner this process begins the better our lives will be. We do not need or desire to wait to put off the cure for pain and death; we need it now, ASAP. We need it STAT. It is our very existence we are discussing, whether to reduce the pain and eliminate the death, or continue on the path of pain and the highway towards our demise. A simple choice, we must have a cure. And the cure is only to be found outside of ourselves and our own efforts. This disease must end and for that to happen, we must submit to our Master Physician and re-creator.