Friday, March 30, 2012

Utopia ...

What do you envision heaven to be?  Must heaven be constrained to a physical location you have yet to see or is it possible to experience utopia in the here and now?  Every dictator in history has thought that upon achieving world domination, the resulting societal structure they would establish would usher in a utopian reality no one has ever seen.  Of course most dictators are unsuccessful in achieving the kind of world domination they believe is required to see utopia established.  The empires that have conquered the “known” world (Rome, Greece, Medio-Persia, Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt) all fell into decay never having achieved their utopian goals.  More recently fascism, socialism and communism all failed as ideologies with utopian goals.  We can glean from this that neither ancient mythologies, nor modern ideas absent any form of God, are able to achieve utopia by conquest.  History seems to demonstrate that no matter what versions of utopia are presented; conquest steeped in blood fails to achieve it.

Consensus then is the remaining ideology presented as the pathway to utopia; consensus in the form of democracy.  If the governed can reach agreement in the majority as to what is best, perhaps what is best becomes possible.  Politicians speak to this idea in every stump speech in every campaign.  They attempt to call out our “better angels”.  They present their ideas on policy as being the best way to move us forward towards the utopia we all desire.  As citizens we want full employment, full insurance, full security, limited governmental restrictions, and as much as possible an end to poverty.  Most political candidates seem to take aim at these various goals in one form or another.  But despite periodic progress in any one of these arenas, almost no one would agree we have arrived at utopia on any individual one of them.  Disagreements about who is to blame, or the impact of countermanding policies ideas, distract us from the realization that perhaps real consensus is simply not possible within a democracy.  If this is true, then perhaps utopia is nothing more than an aspiration that can never be reached, instead of a reality that is part of our existence.
Indeed the Scripture’s ideas of heaven present a utopian paradise.  But heaven is not ruled through democracy, and it does not rely on consensus to move forward its goals and ideals.  Neither is heaven ruled by dictatorship, despite what Satan might have you believe.  God does not make arbitrary decisions that act against your best interests.  I suppose the closest analogy of how utopia works in heaven is a monarchy, but one of a divine nature, not a human one.  Our Lord has been referred to as the “King of Kings” and the “Lord of Lords”.  This language may well have been chosen as it would have been easily understandable by every culture on earth up to the last 2 centuries or so.  But even functioning as a divine monarchy, our King serves as an example of how His government functions.  He who is King of all, is Servant of all.  This concept seems almost beyond our comprehension.  Not many monarchs in the history of earth are known or remembered for what service they provided to everyone else but themselves.  The selflessness of Christ is unmatched in this regard.
Imagine an earthly king who would forsake his throne, to go and sacrifice himself, so that even his enemies would live a better life, setting them free from the bondage they had always known.  Instead, earthly kings seem content to indulge themselves in every pleasure they can imagine.  What good they may do for their respective people is always offset by how they seek to amuse themselves.  And no earthly king has ever thought to voluntarily forsake his entire fortunes, so that he might redeem an enemy.  But Christ has.  Christ, our King of Kings, forsook everything He deserved, every shiny trinket we associate with wealth, the adoration of an entire universe, a throne at the right hand of His Father where the source of all Love is greatest; and came to our world, where we the objects of His affection would abuse Him, reject Him, torture Him, and finally kill Him.  And even in all of this He would pray for mercy for the very ones who put Him to death.  This example sets a bar of self-less-ness that truly defines “why” heaven is an absolute utopia.
Paradise then, is not defined by golden streets, the lack of physical infirmities, gentle wildlife, or even eternal life.  Paradise can only be achieved when self is dead, and every thought and motive is about how we can bring joy to the life of another.  When our concern for reward, and self-aggrandizement is ended, we can serve as Christ continues to serve.  A utopia based on service to others, rather than on pursuit of self.  Once selfish interests hold sway, heaven loses its luster, its walls become prisons, and a perfect being such as Lucifer (once first in rank after the Godhead), becomes a monster capable of killing God to achieve his desires.  The pursuit of self brought into existence pain, suffering, and death.  It brought with it the introduction of all things negative, such as rage, jealousy, hatred, and violence.  It was the pursuit of self that was responsible for the degenerative addiction of evil we are all afflicted with today.  And it is this affliction that robs us of achieving a global utopia for now.  But it cannot rob us completely.
When we know what heaven is based upon, when we realize how utopia is achieved in heaven, and what it will look like for the eons of time we will spend there – we can begin to work backwards and seek to begin living this way in the here and now.  This is not a pointless endeavor based on expecting others to cooperate in a quest for utopia around us.  It is instead a recognition that perhaps the utopian ideals we are destined to live by can begin to take root within us now.  If through submission of our will to Christ, an end to evil is possible today.  If this work is to be completed within us before His return, or should we sleep first, then at His return; perhaps too, our ability to live in full service is also possible in the here and now.  Perhaps too, it will be our living as servants of others, that will influence those around us to seek the author of our faith, hope, and love.  For our testimony to bear fruit, it must become a part of who we are.  If the King of Kings thought it not beneath Him to serve us, then perhaps we should not think it beneath us to serve each other, and to serve those who call themselves our enemies.  This is completely the opposite of conquest, it is instead surrender.  Not surrender of His values and ideals, but surrender of our will and ideas of self to Christ.  We wind up in this way living out His ideals, and love like He loves, in this way we become like Him – servants of all.
What changes about utopia is not its definition in scripture.  It is our ideas about where value and fulfillment come from.  To date, we have too often subscribed to Satan’s ideology that pursuing what makes “us” happy is a boundless enterprise and the only way to achieve happiness.  Our country’s very founding document employs the ideology of the pursuit of happiness.  What changes in our approach of surrender, is that “where” we find happiness is not in pursuing our own ideas, but in service to others, to all others.  It is not natural for us to think in this way.  Our natural inclinations are carnal, therefore founded in the idea of “getting” not “giving”.  But through surrender of the will, what is natural within us, is re-created within us.  We are made new, and therefore begin to think in a new way.  Service becomes an aspiration, and over time one that is seen to be achievable in the here and now.
The fact that perhaps today, you do not get warm fuzzy feelings associated with idea of serving others, should not deter you.  What you are pursuing should not be based in how you feel about it right now.  As with every other aspect of your life, being willing to be remade, is to open the door to Christ to show you the value in loving another, over loving yourself.  Being willing to serve, allows Christ to begin to fashion you into a servant.  Christ does not make or take slaves.  But He is pleased to welcome volunteers to His service, and eager to share with them the happiness that can ONLY be found in  service to others.  In this way we are adopting the very principles of heaven, the very government of heaven, and even absent perfection can begin to see the effects of utopia in our lives in the here and now.  Over time our greatest desire becomes how we can serve Him.  Over time where once was only selfish thoughts, selfish motives, and selfish ideas; our minds are emptied of these things, and in their place are aspirations of becoming a more effective servant, a more loving witness, a more sympathetic person.  These thoughts replace what was once diseased within us.  This is the destiny for which we were and are created.  This was the intentions of God for us, that we would come to see and embrace His wisdom over our own, His desires over our own, and trust Him over ourselves.  When this process is completed in us, we will walk as Enoch walked and be ready to be taken to the throne room of grace.  Utopia must begin within our minds and motives before it can be reflected in the world around us.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Intended ...

Infinite recursion.  To understand our destiny with respect to returning to what God intended for each of us, imagine being so filled with joy that you could not imagine ever feeling better than you do right now.  Then despite your certainty that this is the most joy one is capable of experiencing, a day passes, and there is even more joy than before.  And despite your certainty growing that today is surely the day that the most joy possible is within you, tomorrow brings even more; an infinite process that covers not only joy, but fulfillment, peace, hope, love, faith, and wisdom.  No matter how much you experience, there is always even more on the horizon you are constantly encountering.  It is like memorizing every page of every book contained in the library of congress.  The task seems overwhelming (particularly for those absent eidetic memories), but despite your fears, you accomplish it anyway a few pages at a time each day.  It might take what seems like forever, but when the timeline loses meaning, the task might appear to get accomplished “quickly”.  Now imagine that the library of congress is only the first volume in many libraries you will memorize.  This is the kind of life you were intended for; a life without limits, a life without boundaries, a life of absolute freedom to experience love more and more each day.  In the constant accumulation of wisdom, is the fuel to constantly find new ways to love others.  This is the death of mediocrity.  This is the death of compromise.  This is the death of the status quo, and with it, the birth of the destiny for which you were intended.

We were meant to live lives that are so much deeper than what we see today.  Our minds were meant to retain so much more than they do.  Our bodies designed to experience so much more than they can at the moment.  To contemplate what God intends for each of us, is to begin to think without the self-inflicted boundaries that have so long made us content with the meager expectations we set for ourselves.  This is not about raising the expectations for humanity as a species; but it is about achieving a destiny marked by a power outside of ourselves to re-create us.  Imagine what it would mean to the world to see Christians who are not merely “readers” of the Word, but “do-ers” of the Word instead.  What if instead of recounting the stories in the Bible, Christians were accomplishing even greater feats for the glory of God?  Atheists often contend that the Bible must be false, because they themselves have never witnessed any such miracles first hand.  That argument might have to disappear in the face of the power of love that could not be denied.  But then returning to the destiny God has in mind for us, is not simply what we begin to accomplish in this life, but for eternity as well.
People search for the secrets to life.  They want to know why they are here, what will make them happy, what is the point to their particular existence?  These answers are available to us, but only from the source of our creation.  Strictly speaking, evolution as an ideology, offers no answers to questions regarding the meaning of existence.  Under that line of thinking, random chance is responsible for it all, therefore meaning is absent from everything.  The idea of a God however, that takes a personal interest in you, and wishes to develop a relationship just with you, who wants to see you end the pain in your life and begin to experience what you formerly believed was impossible; now that offers a wealth of meaning.  An acceptance of God translates to the knowledge there is a unique purpose for just you, that you alone were intended for.
God creates snow, but each flake is unique.  God created man, but each man has been unique from Adam to you.  There is commonality in our destiny.  Like snow that covers the earth, humanity was created to love.  The blanket of snow is created by the accumulation of each individual snowflake, remove even one and snow is diminished.  Man is even more important.  Each of us was designed not only be unique in our appearance, but to serve a unique purpose in the overall fabric of humanity that God intended.  What we have in common is unbridled joy, unbounded love, and an eternity to experience it.  What we do not share is our unique perspectives and unique contributions to the whole.  This secret can only be discovered in our God.  To experience the re-creation of who we are through surrender to Christ puts us on the road of discovery to what our purpose in His kingdom truly is.  Our greatest hope, our greatest aspiration becomes one of being His servant, doing His will.  We begin to define ourselves, not by our jobs, or by our accomplishments, even by our relationships with others – instead we begin to see our value only in how we might serve Him, accomplish His goals, helping Him any way we can.  Christianity shares the commonality of testifying about our Lord, yet each unique perspective must be heard in order to see a better picture of the whole of Christ.  Each voice is critically important, each testimony critical to seeing the entirety of God, not just one view of Him.
While evil continues to exist, whether within us, or around us, it will constrain our ability to achieve what God intended.  But it will not prevent us from beginning our journey home, back towards His intentions.  Evil may slow our rate of success, but it cannot stop it altogether.  The process of redemption that leads to perfection has immediate, and near term results.  Where a treasured sin used to occupy so much of our time, or stunt our ability to truly love another, the removal of that sin through surrender of our will to Christ brings nothing but freedom in its place.  Our time is returned to us.  Our ability to reflect His love, is instilled within us, and the mediocrity of our existence begins to fade in favor of the destiny of His intentions for us.  This is where the source of our exhilaration comes from.  It is the very process of re-creation and redemption that adds a quantum level of joy and fulfillment to our everyday lives.  When this process has been adopted into the life of a Christian, the evidence begins to show up on their faces.  A Christian undergoing the process of liberation from sins, just seems to be happier so much of the time.  They cannot help it.  They cannot stop it.  They cannot deny it.  It is because they are becoming someone new, someone different than they were before, and it shows.
The world around you would have you believe that love is defined in a feeling of pleasure you get from the relationship with someone else.  But that is really focusing only on what “love” is bringing to you.  Christ offers you His example of love that is wholly consumed in redeeming you to Himself, ending the pain of your life, and always finding new ways to express itself in bringing you joy.  The kind of love Christ demonstrates is one where the infinite God of the universe is constantly expressing love in action to make your life better every second of every day.  You do not see Christ focused on what He can get out of loving you.  Instead you see Him focused on “how” He can find yet another way to show you what it means for Him to love you.  This example of “how” to love another is something that the process of re-creation brings.  It is part of the restoration to the ideals and intentions of our God.  And the transition is something we share in common, even if the expression is unique to each of us.
Our mistake within current Christian thinking, is to believe this process can only begin in a perfect environment of heaven.  We consequently defer our hopes for something more, or something better, to a far off proposition that we will likely see only after a long time in the tomb.  But this is in error.  Christ came to break our bonds in the here and now, to see us experience His kingdom in the here and now.  Surrender of the will to our Lord, begins the journey right now.  While the transition may not be completed instantaneously, it does occur.  The transition back to the intentions of God for each of us, back to the purpose He intended, back to the fulfillment only He can bring; starts right now and produces immediate results.  It may take a lifetime to complete, it may take less than that, but the journey is sure, and the results are cumulative.  To discover the true meaning to one’s personal existence, and then to being to fulfill this destiny, is no longer beyond the hopes and dreams of those who call themselves by His name.  This is what He saved us for.  This is what happens as we allow Him to really begin saving us from ourselves, as we surrender the will to Him.  Our destiny is not merely the removal of imperfection; it is the journey towards purpose and fulfillment.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Final Solution ...

Destiny.  It is a powerful word.  It conveys a sense of inevitability and hope.  Our universe was not designed to incorporate evil forever. It was designed for perfection, and it is to this state it will be returned.  A choice to break trust with God resulted in the introduction of evil into what had previously been only a perfect environment.  But once introduced the only salient question is how to bring about the end of evil, once and for all.  A cycle that keeps evil dormant or sleeping for millennia only to awaken at some random moment in the distant eons of time, is not a threat that can be faced again.  Therefore the solution to evil must be full, final, and eternal.  This cannot mean the end to choice, for with it would end the ability to love.  Freedom of the will, freedom of thought, freedom of choice will exist forever – but evil will die.  How can this be?  It must be as it was before the choice to break trust was made.  All sentient life must decide forever to choose to trust God or not.  Evil has been on display as the contrasting alternative to turning away from God.  The knowledge of good and evil is now common place such that all the universe now knows what only God knew before.  And unfortunately for our world, the knowledge is experimental, not merely theoretical.  So the question remains, what is the final solution?

The alternative to perfection has been clearly revealed.  Created life throughout the remainder of the universe who initially chose to remain faithful to God, has born witness to where Lucifer’s seemingly innocuous ideology would lead.  They watched in horror at the pain, suffering and death that came upon our world.  They heard the lies of Satan as he cast the blame on God for all the actions he himself was responsible for.  Even the existence of pain itself was something blamed on God by he who founded its existence.  His arguments were never persuasive enough to convert any other worlds to his cause, and at Calvary the universe again bore witness to the depths of hate in killing the Creator.  But it also bore witness to the lengths to which love would go to redeem its own.  The contrast was marked and severe.  The “alternative” to God would result in His murder.  “Love” would be willing to sacrifice itself in the extreme to heal and redeem.  Once revealed the choice became so abundantly clear to the universe still untouched by evil, that the possibility of ever deviating away from God again was eternally buried.  The remainder of sentient life now stands fully cognizant of the contrast of the God of love, and his counterfeits.
But keeping a still perfect universe perfect was not the only goal God had.  His other pressing concern was the redemption of His beloved creation – humanity – back to Himself.  He must now devise a way to redeem a fallen race, with experimental knowledge of evil, back to a state of perfection.  He must find a way to show us the same contrast the universe so clearly sees.  But we are afflicted with the sickness of evil, we are blind to its effects.  We stand naked before it; self-deluded, self-important, and self-serving.  We have a history of failure.  We have inclinations to fail.  We have desire to do that which we would not do.  To simply cure us of our disease would be a miracle in itself.  But even a cure is still not enough, the larger goal of the termination of evil still remains.  We must not only transition from the excrement of sin to a state of perfection; we must also see the wisdom of making an eternal choice to trust God forever, thus insuring that evil does not ever rise a second time.
Our society has offered the concepts of deterrence to prevent evil, and too often Christianity has fallen in line with these ideas.  Fear of punishment is meant to dissuade the casual evil-doer from carrying out his nefarious plans.  But fear has never resulted in the creation of utopia.  Perhaps because there have simply been too many who lack the fear or common sense to avoid the risk of consequence.  Perhaps too, there are those so devoted to carrying out plans of evil that no punishment could ever deter them.  Christians have put forth the idea of hell as the end-all and be-all of punishments for evil deeds.  But the results of preaching hellfire and brimstone are notoriously short lived.  People may “reform” or constrain their behavior for a time while the words of the intense sermons linger in their ears.  But after a time, the fear dissipates and the natural selfish inclinations re-emerge and hold sway.  Therefore if fear is not the answer to an end to evil, what is?  And if punishment itself does nothing to change the core decision to commit evil, then what is its use?
Who would know better than God that “fear” is not a successful motivator?  Therefore to attempt to use scripture to inspire fear for the purposing of achieving an end to evil is clearly a mistake.  Fear does not bring about love or trust.  If we do not trust God, then no matter how long we remain “perfect”, we still face a daily risk that at some point our own choice to deviate away from God might emerge and the universe would see a second Satan.  In order for us to become perfect we submit to God and He re-creates us.  In order to remain perfect, we continue to trust God and continue to surrender to Him.  Should we elect to hold back a part of ourselves, attempt to keep God away from some part of ourselves that we do not trust Him with, we provide the entry vehicle for evil into our lives.  It is only with complete surrender, inspired by trust, that a complete state of perfection can be achieved and then maintained.  Fear will do nothing to keep us on this road.  In fact “fear is the path to the dark side” (as a fictional character once said).  Fear can only inspire fear, so for purposes of eternally removing evil, it is useless.  It would be wonderful then for Christianity to finally leave off attempting to use fear in the quest for the removal of evil.  One can only hope.
But then what is the purpose for punishment?  To examine this idea, we must attempt to look at the concept of punishment from a different perspective.  Is not the end of pain a greater mercy than an eternal existence of ever increasing pain?  At some point, torture is worse than death.  Our problem with the concept of punishment is that ours is self-inflicted and disguised with its effects delayed and disconnected from its cause for as long as possible.  Evil is pain.  But we sometimes fail to see it as the effect may be delayed from the cause.  Consider the consequences of smoking, they are not immediate, instead they build over time, but ultimately they bring massive unavoidable pain.  Evil is something we embrace and therefore cause pain to ourselves, and then others.  The ripples extend out like dropping a rock in still waters, reverberating across others than returning to us yet again.  It is torture to exist in this state.  To end the condition of pain is the mercy God extends.  He does not ask us to wait for death to find relief; instead He offers it to us immediately in the here and now.  Evil does not need to be punished by God.  Evil is the punishment.  We do not suffer from the hand of God because of our sins; we suffer because we push the hand of God away and embrace our sins.  God struggles only to reach us, love us, and get us to allow Him to take away the pain we cause ourselves.  This is not an act of vengeance for our disobedience; it is an act of mercy that results in obedience.  The distinction is critical.
The work of salvation cannot be forced.  God cannot forcibly remove the evil from our hearts, minds, and hands without our consent.  But this work of redemption has nothing to do with vengeance.  Further it has nothing to do with justice.  For if we were to receive the justice we have earned we would be in-line at Calvary for our own set of nails and a whip and cross.  Instead our God took on our sentence of guilt for Himself, and bore the punishment we deserved.  It is with His stripes that we are healed.  But therein lies the point, salvation is a work of healing.  It is a work of love that removes the pain of evil.  It is love that draws us to Him.  It is because of love that He made so great a sacrifice for us.  And it is the work of love within us that removes the evil from us, and replaces it with love reflective of the Author of all Love.  This is an act of mercy and grace.  We are receiving unwarranted favor.  We are receiving a relief from pain, a reward which we did not earn, and do not deserve.  But it is this work of salvation done within us by Christ as we surrender that defines love itself.  Salvation is not found in control, but in surrender and submission.  It is this surrender on our part that teaches us to build trust.  And trust is built over time.
Nowhere in the work of salvation is punishment a part of the equation.  The act of salvation is the very act of removing the punishment of evil from us.  Even our mortal death then should not be considered a punishment for our evil.  Rather death is only a momentary inevitability of evil that will one day cease to exist as death itself is thrown into the lake of fire.  Those who sleep in the Lord will be raised to perfection, never to see death again.  To exist forever in a state consumed by evil, that would be a punishment that is unimaginable.  To have evil exist forever in any state would be a punishment to the universe that it could simply not bear.  Evil must be ended.  The only question is how.  But then to discuss the end of evil, is to discuss the end of the punishment.  For it is evil that is the “punishment” and the result of a choice to turn away from Christ.
God had and has a knowledge of good and evil.  God knows what evil is, though He has chosen to never embrace it.  There is no evil in God in any way; in fact evil is destroyed in His very presence.  God also knows the only thing that could ever have the power to defeat evil.  The simple truth is that only love could overcome evil.  Only love could have more power than justice.  Only love could find a way to forgive that which seems unforgiveable.  Only love could find a way to redeem that which is truly unworthy to be redeemed.  Only love could find the value in souls so bound to evil and so enslaved by it.  Only love could see past the pain and disease of evil, to what love intended for us to truly be.  Therefore God knew from the start that evil while powerful was already destined for extinction, because quite simply love is more powerful.  Evil never had a chance of succeeding.  It was always and only destined to die.  All evil can do now, is infect and cause pain to as many as possible, and drag them from the love of God into the abyss of extinction.
This is what God is working to prevent.  This is why our world yet lingers a little longer in the state of evil.  God is not looking to see us exist in the punishment one minute longer than we have to, but at the same time, He is working feverously to see as many redeemed from evil as He can before the finality of our choices must be brought to bear.  Evil cannot be allowed to exist forever any more than we can afford to face it again in some distant state of perfection.  The remainder of the perfect universe is now resolute in its rejection of the “alternative” to the ideas of God.  It is now for mankind to see evil and make our own choices for or against the redemption of God.  In this effort, time is always too short.  For if you were to find yourself fortunate enough to be counted with the redeemed, would you quickly or casually discard those of your family or affection seeing them lost forever?  Or rather, would you delay a bit longer in a valiant effort to reach them still and hope they turn and embrace God, leaving behind them the legacy of pain to move to the freedom of love?  These are hard choices for us to ponder, how much harder for a loving God that wishes to see no-one lost, while His enemy works to ruin them all.
It is in this war that we have a part to play.  To have surrendered to Christ, to have experienced an end to the evil that we could never end in ourselves, is to have a testimony that carries meaning to the world.  Christian sermons are in no short supply, but genuine Christian perfection is.  Words will not be enough to cause others to take interest in what Christ offers, but the witness of a reformed life certainly is.  When it is evident in the relationships of parent and child, of husband and wife, of friend to friend, of co-worker to co-worker – when love is clearly seen in all – the world will take notice.  It will be different from the norm.  This is what we are called to be.  This is why we will be seen as different.  Not because of what we wear, what we eat, or when we worship; those things may all seem odd, but the real difference in us will be “HOW” we love.  When our lives are a living example of love in the extreme, we will be decidedly different from the world around us.  And the reflection of that love, of His love through us, will draw men unto Him, not us.  Our role is not always to be preacher, or evangelist – but it is always to live a life reformed and re-created by Christ.  That example cannot be hid, or ignored, and will always bear fruit, for it is not I, but Christ.
At some point in the not too distant future, the world will take notice of the explosion of love reflected in those who have learned truly what it means to be called by the name of Christ.  The intensity of the Holy Spirit will be poured out and the love of Christ will be so magnified that it simply cannot be ignored or discarded.  This living fire poured out on Christianity, poured out on those who have learned to surrender, will mark the final last push, the final last opportunity for the world to embrace love or not.  Non-believers will not be asked to make their decision based on the empty words of pulpit sermons, but rather based on the living fire in the lives of people they cannot ignore.  The power of love will be fully and finally revealed, and miracles will pour out in such great measure that CNN will hardly have the reporters to cover them.  It will be in this time of intensity, that love is at last revealed in the followers of Christ, in the true remnant that carry His name.  Lives of love that could only come from the re-creation of Christ Himself, will mark the final time of the end. 
Those who for whatever reason, decide to reject the clear love of Christ, in favor of love for self, no matter what religious affiliation they may call themselves by, will have made a final choice that cannot be undone.  For them, the words of the prophet John will call an ominous forewarning when he says … “let he who is unholy be unholy still.” (Rev 22:11)  Every effort will have been made to see them saved, every demonstration of love made clear, every possible method of reaching them with the tender mercies of God.  But for those who reject it all, who turn from love of others to love only themselves, their devotion to his satanic mastery will increase as well with wild abandon.  Restraint will all but disappear from a world of those who have given themselves freely and fully to self-love rather than the love of God.  It is this clear juxtaposition that marks the end of time for evil. 
The second coming of Christ, and following thousand years, are but one last day in the existence of evil.  Choices will have been made and cemented as to the future of evil.  Those who have surrendered to Christ and have been remade into the perfection which love intended, will forever know the value of trust in God.  Those who have rejected this choice will meet a full and final end in the lake of fire that will at last consume the world over.  Even in this final act, God reveals His last act of mercy on those who have rejected His name.  Rather than allow them to exist forever in a state of torture in the free embrace of evil, His fires purify and put an end to their existence.  Satan will perish in these flames and after him, death itself will be cast into the lake.  At that point, there will be no more pain, and no more evil, and no more death – for they will all cease to exist – never to rise again.  Trust will have been restored throughout the universe including within humanity, and life will return to the intentions of a loving God.  Destiny will be restored to all who will embrace it; our destiny, as wrought by our God of love.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Final Re-Creation ...

It is said Lincoln freed the slaves.  But did he?  I guess the answer lies in your definition of freedom, your sense of timing, and who you are talking to.  When the emancipation proclamation was written and disseminated, the only places it could even remotely be considered valid were under the control of the North.  In Union controlled territory this proclamation may have had some effect, but for slaves still on southern plantations, it made no substantial difference.  It is also worth noting this document was not the precursor to the war.  The civil war began over a dispute of secession not technically over slavery.  Lincoln’s proclamation would wait a while before entering the domain of the war, and would wait until the war’s conclusion to have real meaning to those it was intended to benefit.  But even then, a recently “freed” population with no education, no means, and living in a hostile environment is not exactly the idea of freedom we conjure up in our heads today.  One might argue it was a good beginning, but not until the civil rights movement of the 1960’s would a better version of “freedom” actually start to take meaning.  It would be still another 40+ years past that before Barak Obama would be elected President.  President Lincoln may have put a milestone on the path towards freedom, but I would argue the journey is not over just yet.
We think ourselves “free” in our country today.  Indeed no person can be legally owned by another.  But if our minds are still enslaved, can we ever call ourselves truly free?  The disease of slavery that long affected our nation before the civil war had two very long term negative effects on the mind.  It robbed dark skinned people of their basic human rights, while teaching light skinned people this was somehow perfectly acceptable, even in Christian circles.  It was founded in greed that nurtured hate.  Slavery constructed a wall of hate that placed the interests of one group over another on a collective basis.  The legality of slavery has ended in our nation, but the prison of hate is still active in some.  When we hold on to greed or to hate for any reason, we bind ourselves.  Our chains are invisible, but our bondage is no less real, and the real victim is only us.  Lincoln ended the legality of slavery, but he could do nothing to end a legacy of hate; that would only begin to dissipate over the next 100 years. 
Today our racial divide is almost completely gone.  We no longer use skin color as the criterion for putting one group’s interests over another.  We seem content to use criterion like socio-economic success, citizenship status, education level, career choice, religious denomination, or regional geographies.  Now our group interests are less severe and more political, attempting to insure our version of “rights” and “freedoms” that government is required to protect.  But to be truly free, we must be truly free of hate, truly free of greed, truly free of self-service.  This definition of freedom was something Lincoln could not even begin to scratch the surface at.  It is the freedom of the mind and of the soul.  It is the domain of God alone, and only a final and full freedom could ever be truly enough.
The process towards perfection is the road to real freedom.  The less we seek to serve only ourselves the more we are liberated from hate, from greed, from jealousy, from avarice.  Indeed every sinister and hateful thing we would wish to never encounter is closely associated and rooted in self-service.  To be bound at all, is to be bound.  Our goal cannot be merely “less” chains, but it must be to wear no chains at all.  Only complete freedom could ever be acceptable to us, and so only complete perfection will ever see us truly free.  For too long we have lost hope that it was even possible.  I suppose a 400 year history of slavery made it hard for the Israelites to believe it would ever happen to them either in the days of Moses.  Being bound in chains in Egypt for so long had to make it hard to have hope considering what they would see every day.  So too with us, we see ourselves fail so often, and experience the pain of the failures of others so often, we begin to think that perfection of any variety is nothing more than a pipe dream.
This loss of hope is the goal of our enemy.  When a person believes themselves a slave, they react differently to life than someone whose only thought is bent on freedom.  Christians have so long taught the removal of sin being the responsibility of the sinner, resulting in a harvest that has been nothing but failure, guilt, repentance and thankfully forgiveness.  To teach even the possibility of perfection is to invite nothing but ridicule of non-believers as it seems no sinner has been able to rid themselves of evil to date.  And so Christianity gave up on the ideas of perfection and became content to teach only the value of forgiveness and repentance.  But “guilt” was not the message Christ came to preach to the world; His message was one of freedom.  Christ did not offer freedom from Roman oppression, because He knew that physical oppression is irrelevant compared to being bound in your mind no matter what your physical circumstances.  Christ came to free the Roman Caesar as much as He came to free the poor slave in the gutter.  While the life of the slave was hard, Caesar was no more free than the slave.  A life of opulence, gold, and gluttony does not bring real peace, or real freedom, it only changes the nature of the chains.  Christ came to free us of what binds our minds.  For the rich young ruler, his next step was to free himself of his possessions.  But Christ asked no less of the humble fishermen in forsaking everything he knew of his own life, to follow Him.  Freedom beyond what the world can touch was the message of Christ, freedom that could only come from the removal of sin from within us.
Perfection, or the complete removal of self, is the message of hope Christ offers to everyone no matter what circumstances they find themselves in today.  He does not ask us to do the work of salvation, rather only to benefit from His work in us.  He does not seek only a partial removal of our disease but to instill within us a full and complete cure.  His only limitation in treating us has been our reluctance to allow Him to do His work.  By teaching that the sinner must somehow remove his own sin, we have delayed and deferred the work of our Re-creator.  As we instead realize our own complete incompetence and accept the “gift” of our freedom from evil, we submit ourselves to our Master Physician and He performs the miraculous work of redeeming the human soul.  For it is a miracle of a most important nature to be freed from sin.  A miracle (as no human has yet to accomplish it), that Christ alone offers to do on our behalf.  No other deity offers to reform the hearts of their enemies, only Christ, and only Christ has proven He can accomplish it.  It is why those who are free in Christ are truly free, and why those who deny Christ are enslaved already.
It is only our reluctance to fully surrender, our attempts to cling to some part of who we are, that impede Him from enacting the full recovery within us today.  But as we learn to trust, and learn to submit, and increase our willingness to be made whole – He is faithful to perform this very work within us.  It is a prayer He answers 100% of the time in the affirmative.  Christ is not willing that even one would perish, or continue to suffer in the pain that the pursuit of self can only bring.  He loves us all.  He wishes to redeem us all.  A perfect surrender should be the aspiration of our prayers.  A full and complete submission of who we are to the Son of God should be our daily goal.  In divesting us of even our own ideas of identity we can become the individual God intends for us to become.  Nothing the Lord tears down or removes from us in the process of re-creation will ever be something we miss.  Instead a full renovation of how we think, of what we want, of what we value will yield for us a freedom from chains that would have otherwise bound us until we died.  This is the process of perfection that is actually achievable, not because we achieve it, but because we allow it to be achieved for us, and in us.
Full perfection reached in our lifetime – this is a goal put back on the table by a restructuring how it can be achieved.  No longer is the removal of sin the domain and responsibility of the sinner, instead it is reverted to its source, the gift of Christ to us.  Our “work” transitions from actions designed to reduce bad behavior, to a full surrender and willingness to be remade in His image.  We must learn to “accept” perfection instead of attempting to acquire it.  By no means is this a license to sin, or compromise that merely throws the blame on God for failures we fully intend to commit.  Rather it is a zero tolerance policy towards evil within us in any form.  We ask God to completely overhaul and remake who we are at the very core of us, and He does.  He totally transforms us and removes every sin, every desire towards evil, every thought, motive, or action.  Letting go to God does not result in a baptism of depravity and evil abandon, instead it results in the removal of these very things.  In this process we begin to get over our own fears of how bad we have been, and our own histories of incessant failures that have led us to our current state of depravity; for in spite of all of these truths, we are still remade.  Christ, as only our God could do, takes the mess that is us, and re-creates us.  He removes what we would not wish to have anyway, and replaces it with love and joy to such a level we can hardly contain it.  The transition is remarkable and as big a mystery to us, as it is a miracle to us.
What words were once read as a fearful warning by the apostle John in the book of Revelations (22:11) where he writes … “let he who is holy be holy still, and he who is unholy be unholy still”.  They now become an affirmation of hope in that the process Christ is working within us to make us holy does indeed accomplish making us holy.  It is no accident.  It is no partial accomplishment.  It is a complete renovation, a complete rebirth, a complete re-creation of who we were intended to become.  Perfect.  Made perfect by Christ.  What man could never accomplish for himself, Christ accomplishes for him, and within him.  This is the miracle of salvation.  We are not made perfect in order to be saved.  We are instead saved by being made perfect by Christ.  It is evil we are saved from, not just some evil, but all evil.  Nothing of evil left within us, this is the hopeful prophetic words of John the Beloved of Christ in his revelations of the end of time.  What marks our current time in history is not the wars of the day, nor the many signs that have already come to pass.  Instead what calls out like a beacon in the night that we are living in the time of the end is a return to the possibility and reality of perfection in the Christian life, by allowing the gospel of Christ to actually do something inside of us.  This is the most solid sign that the end of days is upon us at last.  No more is Christianity a mere ideology of love, acceptance and forgiveness – instead it is more than that – it becomes a methodology that can attain an achievement of the miracle of perfection within us; a miracle that places the emphasis of true salvation back on Christ where it has always belonged.
The end of evil within me allows me to finally be reconciled fully to my creator.  I can enter the presence of God without fear, not because of my worth, but because of His salvation and redemption of me from evil and from self.  As Enoch one day simply returned home with God, so will we one day reach that level of reconciliation with our Lord.  The miracle God performed in the redemption of Enoch is the same one He offers to us today.  It is the denial of self-based-salvation that will finally and fully lead to the same transformation that took Enoch home where he belonged.  Our desires, our motives, our thoughts, and our actions become in perfect harmony with the God of heaven.  The chains of our slavery to self will be so fully broken and discarded that they will never again hold us back.  Now we can see and run to the throne of grace, unencumbered with doubt, or guilt, or apprehension of any kind.  The throne of God is now the cradle from which only love springs.  Our perfection as wrought by Christ within us is complete.  It enables us to approach the very throne of God and finally meet Him face to face.  Finally are the words of Christ true for us, to know God is eternal life.  It is the definition of life itself, and because of the miracle of Christ in saving us, it is now something we can experience.
It will not be the proclamation of this knowledge that will bring about the end of our world.  Instead it will be the experimental knowledge that can only come as one gives himself over to Christ and witnesses first-hand the miracle of the cessation of evil from the inside out.  Once you have personally tasted what Christ can do, it will develop an appetite for more than can scarcely be quenched.  To see the miracle of the removal of sin you have so long failed against brings a joy only you can fully appreciate.  Words are simply insufficient to describe it.  No acronyms for joy or fulfillment or gratitude could ever cover it.  But once it is a part of who you are, you will become something different, someone different, touched by what you have experienced.  You will know first-hand the power of God to redeem, and Christianity becomes a new religion to you. 
The words of scripture become more than words, they become truth revealed.  The more you learn to surrender the more truth you will discover.  It will undo what you have been taught in error, and will reveal clearer and clearer a portrait of love that Christ alone could reveal.  This is the end-game for our God.  This is what He has long wished to impart to the world.  It will begin in the church that calls itself by His name, but as it multiplies throughout the world, many who do not today really know what it means to be saved by Christ, will find out what that truly means.  Non-believers will be converted by the thousands, dare I say by the millions, not merely by the evangelistic efforts of pastors, but by the quiet lives of re-created believers.  A final and full freedom from the slavery of evil that Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Barak Obama, and you & I have only ever dreamed about to date.  It begins today.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dealing with Relapse ...

Have you ever simply thrown it all away?  There are those who mistakenly believe that once a cure has been enacted within you, it becomes “impossible” for you to ever fall again; would that this were so.  But unfortunately, despite a complete overhaul of our desires, and a change in how we think, and even long periods of time where patterns of behavior appear to have completely been altered; it is not “impossible” to throw all this victory away and return to a former vice.  It makes no sense.  It is why iniquity is referred to as a mystery in scripture; however the ability to choose does still remain “possible” in the human heart and mind.  Despite being unlikely, it is not impossible.  Take for example the drug addict who has never taken drugs, until the first time.  Only then is the vice and weakness revealed, but sadly by then, the experimental knowledge is a trap they become slave to.  In general we shun pain, in general we avoid failure, in general once a recovery or victory is done within us our freedom lasts forever from it - but not always.  So how do we deal with relapse, and why does it occur?

It is disheartening to recognize we may be so stupid that we could throw away a victory our Lord is trying to give us.  We would wish that was simply impossible.  But our God never compels the conscience; he only re-creates it as we are willing.  Once having been freed from bondage to evil, we “could” still return to it, even though the desire to do so might be completely gone.  It does not just have to be a failure to an overwhelming sense of temptation that we fall prey to.  In point of fact, it is much worse than that.  It is generally more calculating, more intended, more willful, and by far – more stupid – yet it still does occur.  The example of Lucifer in heaven is one that will forever be ingrained in the minds of those who will one day reach perfection.  Lucifer broke trust with God, by intent, by choice, and that choice was the genesis of evil in the universe.  He was not tempted, nor pre-disposed, he was in fact perfect.  But his free will and freedom to think, led him to explore the ideas of self that ran in contrast to the character of God.  He ignored the wisdom and counsel of God, and left us with a legacy of pain.  One day, Christ’s work of perfection will be completed within us, but becoming perfect does not preclude us from ever sinning again.  The only way we will remain perfect for all eternity is to keep our complete trust and confidence in the same God who saved us in the first place.  If in a billion years in heaven the Lord asks you not to eat the purple tomatoes, or wear the pink feathered hat, I would suggest we will obey.  Not because we understand why He asks us to do so, but because we know He only does so because He loves us.  We must learn not to trust our own wisdom and common sense, and instead trust our God who knows more than we.  A lesson Lucifer failed.
Still in our world, relapse happens.  The reasons for it vary from person to person, but some of the causes we share in common.  Most often, the culprit again is self.  We begin to take His victories for granted.  Over time it is tempting to begin to think that maybe we just somehow conquered sin on our own.  After all, it may have been months since we last fell into our former weakness.  Maybe now we are simply immune to it.  Notice how in all this line of reasoning that the emphasis moves away from Christ giving us a victory which He maintains in us, and instead focuses on us – what “we” are immune to, how long “we” have remained pure, “our” victories instead of His. 
It is similar to the experience Peter had while walking on water.  While keeping his attention focused on Christ, and despite the fact Peter knew what he was attempting was simply impossible and would violate our understanding of the laws of physics and gravity, Peter succeeded.  Not because Peter was given the ability to defy gravity, but instead because Peter was focused on the Christ who invited him out of the boat.  But like us on occasion, Peter realized that indeed “he was doing it”.  He then decided to turn around and have the other disciples recognize what “he” was doing.  And of course Peter immediately sank.  What might have been an otherwise dry walk with His Lord, turned out to be a life threatening dip in the drink, all because he forgot “how” this could occur.  He lost sight of Christ, looked for recognition, and down he went.
We are no different than Peter.  Christ works a miracle in our lives that we simply do not understand.  It defies our life-long historical experience.  We just can’t figure out how we could go from craving some sin so badly to no longer needing or wanting it around.  Over time, we start thinking, “we” did it.  And the moment we take our eyes off of Christ, we are every bit as vulnerable to our former failures as we ever were.  It is NOT because our cure is not real, genuine, or eternal.  It would be.  But it can also be undone by our tendency to insert “self” back into the process of our perfection.  “We are not saved by works, lest any man should boast” says Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (2:8-9).   It is not our actions, or our strength of will, that has anything to do with how evil is removed from our hearts.  Long periods of victory can easily be undone the minute we decide to put “self” back into that equation.  Like Peter, the minute we pull our eyes off Christ, the laws of physics reengage, and we start to sink.  To do what cannot be done, requires a continual recognition that this is indeed impossible – outside of Christ.  Only Christ can do what must be done in us.  Only as we surrender our will, our very core of who we are to Him, is this possible.  The moment we start thinking that there is some portion of us “worth” holding on to, we sink.
Peter sank because he could not be allowed to think that somehow “he” was doing it.  Sometimes we fall for the very same reasons.  It is perhaps the leading reason why there are so few modern day Moses’, Elijah’s, or Peter’s, walking around being covered by CNN on a daily basis.  Too few Christians are ready to wield the power of Christ, without becoming enamored with the idea that it is they who are truly great rather than Christ who alone is.  The would-be miracle worker is all too eager for the attention they would receive because of “their” great faith, and “their” great deeds, and “their” important ministries.  Instead of focusing the attention in great humility back on Christ who alone is worthy, we are all too eager to start believing maybe “we” are worth something too.  And so miracles are denied to the world.  Not because God is weak or unwilling, or even that we lack the faith, but because our ideas of self would become a poison to our souls.  When instead our sense of self has been completely eradicated, and we see value only how we can truly serve Him, with a full knowledge of our own inability to accomplish anything - the miracles of Christ will pour out on the earth in such force and passion as the world has not seen since He left it.  It will usher in the days of the latter rain, but it cannot begin falling while we are too eager to see ourselves in its reflection, instead of focusing on only Him.
We are saved only because He saves us.  We remain pure, only because He sustains us.  And we can avoid throwing away His victories only as we stay willing to be remade, and in humility, cognizant that it is He alone who saves us.  If we let self creep in to our ideas of redemption or perfection, we are destined to failure.  It is self that must be fully killed before He can be fully revealed.  Satan works hard to distract us from this knowledge.  He sometimes works to lure us into a sense of false security.  He leaves us alone from his temptations for long enough for us to begin to wonder if we still need to daily seek the will of the Lord for us.  After all, if we have spent many days without a problem, and now appear to no longer desire our former evil, perhaps our “need” of God has been reduced.  If Satan is able to combine a limited record of success against evil with many “real” demands of our day-to-day lives, he might be able to keep us from spending the time each day to ask God to continue His work in us and remove all the evil in us.  As we quit asking, he still leaves us alone, in order for us to think, perhaps our problems are over, and we are finally “past” it.  Lulled into this state of spiritual slumber, we quit praying every day, and the temptation to begin relying on self once again grows in the place where the victories of Christ should be.  Before you know it, we are neck deep in the waters of evil once again, crying like Peter to be saved once more.
No sin is a death sentence to the work of Christ perfecting our souls; accept a refusal to allow Him to do so.  That idea of telling Christ “no”, or “don’t bother” is not something a Christian believes they would ever allow themselves to get to.  Surely we would repent before it got that far.  Surely God would intervene before we finally said no to Him.  But sadly, it is possible to develop a pattern of telling God “no” in the slightest of ways that builds over time.  It comes as we hold back our willingness to be fully changed into what He intends for us.  We cling to some evil we cherish thinking we can work on other things first perhaps.  Sometimes we even cling to our own ideas about “truth” rather than being willing to be led to “truth” by Christ.  We allow Christ to change only some of who we are, but not the one thing we still think we need to hang on to.  While Christ is patient with us, He is ever desiring to remove every pain, not just the ones we think He should remove.  The conflict is one within us that grows over time where we begin to realize it will come down to a choice of keeping our cherished sin, or turning it over to Christ.  If we cling to it, for whatever the reason, we deny Christ the ability to remove it from us. 
By doing this, we are tempted to hold on to more and more of our cherished sins, until we reach a point where we don’t want His involvement in any aspect of our lives.  This is no instant process either.  It takes time to develop, and works slowly on our souls.  But its progress is predictable and unavoidable to those who refuse to submit all.  It is the willingness to let everything go, that is in the balance of our souls.  We might not want to let go, but by being willing, what we want will change.  What we value will be remade to what it should be rather than what it is.  To prevent this alteration, is to risk a path of doom that we may not escape.  God does not compel compliance; He only offers freedom from slavery.
There is little worse feeling of remorse, guilt, and self-loathing that follows a failure of a sin Christ had already removed from your life.  To fall back into a weakness that you did not “have” to choose; hurts.  Satan uses these opportunities to try to destroy your faith in the salvation Christ offers.  He tries to tempt you to believe your changes are not real, just imagined.  He tries to tell you that Christ should not be expected to do everything, and obviously you did not do your part.  He works hard to turn your needless failures into a permanent despair or forsaking of all hope that you can ever be truly changed.  And most of all, Satan looks to insure you repeat this weakness quickly and often.  But relapse, no matter the cause, is not a condition beyond hope.  Despite the forsaking of the victory Christ has wrought, He can do it again.  But again like Peter, we must be broken by what we do, and return to the only one we know.  Peter denied Christ 3 times after swearing he would die for Him.  On finding himself guilty of these denials and seeing love in the eyes of Christ, Peter fled.  I would be willing to bet his heart was broken and he wept bitterly at what he had done.  He had no chance to undo it.  Christ would die before his courage would return.  His ideas about the ascendency of Christ and his own greatness in a new earthly kingdom were completely shattered.  His whole theology, as taught by the priests of his day and with common expectations of the public, was obliterated on a Roman cross.  Ironic that the religion of Christ, setup by the Messiah, was completely mis-taught and misunderstood by the time Christ arrived, such that its priests determined to kill the very God who ordained a religion of love they had long since discarded.  How interesting that today the Christian religion is seldom known for its great love, instead being known for its great judgment.  But I digress …
Peter could have done what Judas did and ended his own life.  But he did not.  Despite everything he thought he knew being shattered, he was still in the upper room with the others hiding from what they thought would be certain death.  It was in this room that the good news was first proclaimed by the women who had been to the tomb.  Peter was reunited with His master, and this time when Christ asked Him if he loved Him, Peter answered … “thou knowest”.  Instead of proclaiming what he Peter would do, or think, or feel – he deferred to what Christ knew about him.  Instead of relying on even his own sense of devotion and love to Christ, Peter surrendered his ideas of self and deferred to the will of Christ.  Relapse and remorse did NOT claim the life of Peter.  Instead his brokenness and guilt was laid on the altar of Calvary and in its place was put the power of Christ.  When later asked to perform miracles or offer charity, He would make the disclaimer, “not I, but Christ”.  Peter would perform miracles that defied all wisdom and the laws of physics, and each and every time He alone proclaimed the gospel of Christ not of himself.  The gospel he preached in power was that Christ could change even the heart of a fisherman who would deny he ever even knew His Lord, and turn that same life into one the world could scarcely ignore.  Peter’s personal testimony included his failures, and the victories Christ gave him.  Ours can only be the same.
For those that through daily surrender never know the pain of relapse, praise to the Lord.  But for those who for whatever reason find themselves hiding in an upper room so totally ashamed at having thrown away what the Lord had done for them, take heart in Christ and know that relapse is not your end.  Christ is.  Fall back to the same one who in times past so redeemed you from yourself, and know He is still there, still waiting, still eager to take away your pain and give you peace.  Satan may try to convict you with the truth of your life and your failures.  But Christ can work within you a new truth, a new reality, and a new future.  The mechanism you develop in learning to submit and trust the Lord to save you here, is the same one that will preserve you through all eternity and see that no sin ever arises in your mind and heart forever.  It will always and only ever be Christ alone.