Friday, April 27, 2012

Ageless ...

 “Respect your elders.”  This societal mantra (also believed to be supported in Leviticus 19:32) is something older folks tend to try to drill into younger folks, reasoning that older folks have earned it.  Scripture tells us to “honor our father and mother” (Exodus 20:12), but it also says “a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6) and “unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:2-4).  One of Israel’s greatest prophets Samuel began his ministry at the age of seven, and continued it until his death when he was described as being “very old”.  Age, it would seem, carries with it various societal and spiritual implications.  But how do I respect my elders when I cannot determine who they are?  And how do I become like a little child, if everyone around me looks just like I do?  What impact will age have, in a destiny, where age and all the signs we associate with it, become irrelevant?  After all, our destiny it to be ageless …

Our embrace of evil has brought with it the greatest of all inhibitors to the state which God created us for; evil has brought with it a termination to our life span.  It was not God’s design that we should get old and die.  In the Garden of Eden, God created for us the tree of life.  This very real tree provided fruit which served not only for every need our bodies would have to convert food into energy (with zero waste byproducts), but also as a symbol to point out that all life originates with God.  It was in fact God’s original design that our life span would indeed be ageless.  It was only after our embrace of evil, that our condition (i.e. physical, mental, moral, and spiritual) would be degenerative and require a point of termination.  Had Eve remained with Adam, or had Adam trusted God enough to save Eve after her fall, we might never have known the knowledge of age and death.  Both Adam and Eve were created into perfection, which included the “perfect” age or level of maturity we would measure them by.  The right height, weight, and appearance – marks by which we measure age – would have all been consistent with the standards of perfection that God setup.  In point of fact, we do not know how long they lived in Eden before the fall (though we assume it was relatively “brief”).  But they could have been there for 10 days or 10 decades and their appearances would have been unaltered by time. 
The process of the growth from birth to maturity however was something that preceded evil.  Even before our species fell into evil, God’s command to everything He had created including us was to “be fruitful and multiply”.  Procreation was therefore a cycle of life that God had built into every creation of life He made, and it was an expectation it would continue.  Babies would be born, and grow to the perfect level of maturity, but that is as far as aging would ever be relevant.  This includes baby birds, baby fish, baby mammals, but it would also have included the process of germination for plant life as well.  Anything that could procreate was directed to procreate.  And once again scripture does not point out a cap on this process.  God does not say, go out and have exactly one child, or one baby bird, or plant one more tree.  It appears His intent was for His creations to fill our world.  But this brings up an interesting point, why not simply do it Himself?  He could have created the perfect number of fish to fill all the lakes and streams and bodies of water so that procreation was not necessary.  He could have filled the skies with the right number of birds, and planted the right amount of foliage to populate our planet from end to end.  Even with man, He could have made several couples, or perhaps an entire nation at once.  But He did not.  Instead it appears, He “seeded” our world with His creation, and within the design of His creation, by intent, He made procreation a part of our process. 
Had Adam and Eve never sinned or broken trust with God, they too would have procreated with Cain, Abel, and Seth having been born into our perfect world in the perfect process of procreation.  In fact it is only identified after we broke trust with God that “pain” would be a part of the procreation process.  Had we never sinned, the process of birth would have been completely devoid of pain.  It might even have been one of pleasure (you know like the one at conception).  Regardless, scripture does not tell us that Adam and Eve were meant to only make 3 sons, or that they stopped with only 3.  Logic dictates that they were giving birth to daughters as well, and probably had a significant number of children after Seth and before the effects of aging finally set in.  Both our original parents lived well into their 900’s after all.  Scripture further places no pre-conceived ideas about when (if ever) procreation should have stopped.  Using our human logic, we would naturally assume the goal was populate only our world.  But then that is based merely on human limitations.  Just to look into the sky at night, is to see with the naked eyes, stars beyond counting.  Each star could have a system of planets associated with it, much like our own.  In the perfection of heaven, it is possible each couple united in marriage could travel to a distant world and begin populating it all over again.  Just to fill up the ones in this galaxy might take us “forever”.  Adding to that number, how long it would take to fill up another galaxy or another, or perhaps even an entirely parallel universe, etc.;  the point is simply that without constraining growth to human limitations, the process of procreation could be as infinite as the years we were intended to live.
It would appear then, that a return to the state of perfection we were intended to be, would be a return for each of us to the “perfect” age, and uniquely personal “perfect” appearance each of us was designed for.  Children might still be born, and age to “maturity”, but upon reaching maturity they become ageless.  In that perfect state of maturity, the ability to distinguish between mother and daughter and sister and wife and friend becomes impossible based on appearances.  Perhaps then, honoring my mother, is not just about recognizing a woman who appears older than me, but about how I treat the woman who gave birth to me.  Perhaps it does not matter how old my mother is, in terms of how I honor her and show her love in the world that is to come.  Her age will impact her in this world of pain, and so while here I may tailor how I show my love to her to account for the impacts of aging.  In heaven, however, and for the eternity of time we will spend together, honoring her will take a bit different approach.  Loving and honoring her in a unique way will set her apart as my mother.  From our appearances (other than perhaps family resemblance) you could not tell if she were my mother, or my daughter, or my sister.  Perhaps this was one of the intentions of God in the first place, that the distinctions we use today on how we love each other might give way to broader concepts of what family is, in the perfect destiny of heaven.
Indeed it might be very difficult to distinguish who is my mother, sister, daughter, relative or friend in the perfection that is heaven.  The only real way to know might be how we treat each other.  But then, in the perfection of heaven, even that might make the differences indistinguishable.  Love after all, and service to others, is the guiding principle of the government of heaven and character of God.  Expressions of love to others would be constant, intense, and passionate in the perfection of heaven, making the relationships between one person and another hard to discern by sight alone.  Perhaps this was by intent.  Perhaps this is what God had in mind for us all along.  Perhaps this is what it means to be part of the “family” of God, that our actual blood lines make nearly no difference at all, in who we call family and in how we treat them.  In the perfection of heaven, my own daughters and son, will be loved by you as much as they are loved by me.  In point of fact, you would do anything you could to bring joy to them, as I would do for your children.  In this sense, our families are immediately blended, without hesitation, regret, or fear.  You holding my child is as natural as me holding yours.  There are no fears that are tied to evil intentions, motives, or actions as in the perfection of heaven these cease to exist.  Through the process of recreation we are made into something new, not only absent sin and evil and slavery to self, but someone who is able to love without ceasing or distinction.
Only one relationship may remain distinct in the perfection of heaven, and that may be husband and wife.  Again like here on earth, the only way to discern this relationship from others, is based on how we behave, and how we treat each other.  A ring does not make one married; fidelity does, love does, commitment does, sacrifice does, trust does, honest and open communication does.  In heaven, if it is the wish of our Lord for us to continue His designs of procreation and family units as He originally setup in the garden of Eden, I expect each of us might find ourselves in a perfect pairing.  I do not think our Lord would separate a couple like Adam and Eve in the perfection of heaven, because subsequent generations steeped in the selfishness of evil have made a mess and a mockery of the concept of marriage.  It would not be fair to part Adam from Eve, because we have made commitments to more than one spouse over the course of our selfish lives.  Nor would I expect, that Eve was supposed to be the perfect mate for anyone other than Adam, and he for her.  That marriage was created in perfection, and I would expect it would continue in the perfection that is to come.  No doubt there will be a lot of work from our God, in cleaning up the messes we have made of relationships and marriages in our world of sin.  But that does make this work impossible to complete, and perfectly accepted by us when it is.  To be willing to give even our desires, our romances, and our commitments to God is a key part of the process of re-creation, and allows God to do with us as He originally intended, not be constrained with what we have messed up.
To be ageless then is to lose the physical distinctions that set us apart, and to see each other regardless of our bloodlines as equal, and as equal opportunities to love.  Our families are destined to be so much larger than we see them today, not simply because in heaven I may be introducing myself to my mother’s - mother’s - mother’s - mother for more generations than I am currently able to count (back to Eve); but because more than just by bloodline, you will be my family by my choice and by your own.  My children will be as your children, and your children will be as my own.  I will wish to honor, not only my own mother, but yours as well.  How we treat each other in the perfection of heaven, in the perfection of love expressed, should work its way into our thinking about how we see each other in this world as well. 
Today, in the strength of our own humanity, we can accomplish none of this.  It is in that sense beyond idealistic.  But our limiter was never intended to be “human” strength and perspective.  We are destined to be measured by His power, by His perspectives; and we can accomplish these things by letting Christ change us from the inside out.  We can learn to reflect His love through us, instead of trying to originate love within us on our own.  We can learn to see each other through His eyes, instead of trying to mimic what He did on our own.  The secret to achieving the perfection of heaven in the here and now is not about what we conquer in ourselves, it is about what we surrender to Christ of ourselves.  Increased surrender of who we are, until we have given it all, will lead us to what He is able to do in us, and no longer will be constrained by “human” weakness.  Indeed His love reflected through us will become limitless as it becomes ageless…

Friday, April 20, 2012

Eternal Purpose ...

Perhaps the most vile myth perpetuated against Christianity is the idea that heaven consists of nothing but disembodied souls dressed in white robes playing harps on fluffy clouds throughout eternity.  Add to that, hell is generally considered unpleasant, but it is where the “party” will be.  Satan presents God’s ideas of eternal destiny as being tied to eternal boredom.  He presents his own, as perhaps painful, but at least it is where all the fun will occur throughout the eons of time.  These myths work their way backwards into our thinking such that we begin to accept the ideas that “sin” in this life represents all the “fun” we might ever be able to have.  Those “goodie-two-shoe’s” folks never get to have any fun because they just go around doing what is “right” all the time.  Too many non-believers have bought into this idea seeing heaven as nothing more than a cloudy, ghost filled, harp players convention without end.  Ironic that the folks stuck in hell, seem to have their bodies (if only to assist in the suffering), and despite their circumstances are still able to eek out an eternity of “pleasure”.  When Christians begin to see the devil as a man with 2 horns, a tail, and pitchfork; and they see God as a vengeful, justice obsessed egomaniac who seeks only to punish the deeds of the wicked – Satan wins.  To debunk these myths we might start by asking a simple question – what purpose was I destined to fulfill for all eternity?

Our discussion in this BLOG thus far has been centered on returning to the destiny we were created for, and doing that in the here and now.  When we allow Christ to remove the inhibitor of evil from us, the chains of addiction to self, we become free to experience things we never thought possible before.  Thus mediocrity meets its death, and boundless potential becomes our daily mantra grounded in Christ.  But our spirituality includes more than what we do, and why we do it, it also includes “who” we were intended to be.  While we allow Christ through our daily surrender to change us at the core of who we are, the process of re-creation is not merely to “remove”, it is also to “replace” and “renew”.  Who we were in our sinful state will ultimately be fully replaced, but the person we are to become, or are becoming, also has a purpose that is unique, and will fill a vital role throughout eternity.  Playing the harp may be yet another gift or ability we receive in the holy city, but it is not meant to be our sole occupation, or our unique purpose.  Thinking that God only ever wanted to create a huge heavenly orchestra consisting of nothing but harps denies just about everything we know, and can read about God throughout scripture.  And while I enjoy the thought of mastering what is for me a new instrument such as the harp, by the instant gift of God, I also wonder if the promise of “harp” playing was meant to be literal (i.e. everyone gets a golden harp), or more figurative (everyone will have skill where it comes to playing an instrument in heaven’s orchestra of perhaps even unknown origin).  After all the variety of “stringed” instruments that exist in our world of sin far exceeds a simple harp, why would I assume instrument selection to be so limited in heaven?  Perhaps my assumption is based more in myth, than it is in God’s actual intent.
Next up, we should examine that heaven and eternity will not be a place of monotony and repetition.  Our story begins with God’s creative work.  Our very existence is a product of creation, of genesis, of going from non-existence into the latest, newest creation of our God.  Do we presume He has never done this before us?  If so, where did the angels come from, let alone the remainder of our universe?  And so, do we presume that God will go on permanent vacation after we all get back home, never to create again?  It looks to me like God enjoys creating new things.  He seems to have no limits to His imagination.  When I look around me at the elements containing just some form of life the variety is astonishing.  I love my two Akita dogs, they are brother and sister.  Each has a unique personality despite coming from the same parents.  Each looks different, each has similar characteristics, but I could hardly confuse the two of them, as they are decidedly two unique dogs in the history of the dogs I have encountered in my life.  And they are merely the two closest examples of living creations I can site.  I also have a cat, and a bunny.  These other 2 living beings add an entirely new dimension to witnessing love expressed, and don’t even come close to covering the wide spectrum of living things that surround my day-to-day world.  Add to that, plant life; yet another form of living creation that surrounds my world with infinite variety and joy.  I love walking barefoot on a full grass lawn, or mossy creek bottom.  I loved climbing trees in my youth, and enjoy their shade in my elder years.  The majesty of a redwood is still a sight to wonder at in the forests of northern California, no less beautiful than the Joshua tree in the high deserts.  The level of unique creation just within a species in our world, should give us the clue that our God appreciates variety, uniqueness, and has no limit to His imagination where it comes to creating new things from nothing.
When I cannot find two identical trees, two identical dogs, or two identical snowflakes in a world populated with those creations; why would I think the purpose I was created for on an eternal basis is only to perform the same function as everyone else?  God has something in mind for me, that is unique to me.  He intends a purpose, a role, an agenda that will last through the ages.  What is more, it will be something that I will love to do.  I can have every confidence in this, because every time I have let God have His way with my life, I have LOVED the results.  My greatest problems originate when I attempt to exert my own ideas and control over me.  Surrender, leading to re-creation, has a consistent record of bringing joy to me and removing pain.  It is because of what He has done, and is doing for me, that I am so overwhelmed with gratitude that I want to praise His name.  The concept that we were “created” for nothing more than to praise God is only another lie of His enemy.  God did not create us to boost His ego (I do not believe God even has an ego).  That myth is perpetuated by His opposite.  Satan is obsessed with us worshipping him.  God is not.  True heart-felt worship in gratitude cannot be manufactured or demanded.  It comes naturally.  It comes because it cannot be denied or contained.  When we see the love of God for us doing such marvelous things in our lives, we cannot help but praise and thank Him for it.  We can recognize God as the supreme being, as Satan must, without wanting to worship Him.  But when we allow our God to re-create our lives, love infects us, and love causes us to see our gratitude and wish to share our joy.  The harp, or instrument, I will play in heaven to honor my God will itself be a unique expression of what He has done for me.  That experience will be unique to me, though common in that He saved me like He saved you, like He saved everyone.  Even in my praise, God will see a distinction that is unique to He and I; a unique voice in His choir of voices, a unique sound in His orchestra of music.
So if eternity will be a time of infinite creation, infinite genesis, then the number of things to do will also be expanding eternally.  Even if it is my role to do a certain task, it is also likely that the number of tasks I am assigned will ever be increasing as new things are ever part of my experience.  It is not about mastering everything we can put our finger on today (though perhaps that itself would be an admirable goal for eternity), it is about the idea that there will always be something new springing in to existence that God is capable of envisioning.  Even if I could achieve a mastery of all the accumulated knowledge to this date, there would ever be something new to learn.  And as God transcends our ideas of space and time, i.e. He exists infinitely going back in time from our perspective, I could spend eternity looking backwards at “history” just trying to “catch up”.  But I doubt God is looking to make me a historian attempting to trace back information infinitely (though I suspect this might be a historians greatest dream).  I think rather He intends a purpose for me now, and going with Him into the future.  I do not know what it is today, but it inspires me.
Career is something we tend to measure ourselves by in this world.  We are known first by our name, but perhaps second by what it is we do “for a living”.  It is perhaps only a third reference who our family associations are.  For instance, it is common for me to say for example … “Oh that is Howard, he runs the Pharmaceutical areas over at Florida Hospital, I think he is single right now, but probably looking.”  His name, his occupation, and his family status all seem to identify this person from another.  Career itself is how we spend the majority of our time.  It does not completely define us, but it offers an idea of our skills and interests.  In this world, it may not have been our ideal choice, but this world is obsessed with “earning a living”.  When “a living” is no longer the goal of our career, and when God Himself is our new boss, what might our “occupation” look like in that scenario?  We might even be recognized in a similar way in the heaven that is to come.  For instance … “Oh hi, my name is Kristian (substitute whatever God decides to call me here), I help God out by exploring alternate universes in multiple dimensions out on the back quadrant (or substitute whatever task God might ask me to do), this is my wife and children …”.  While I cannot even guess what God may decide to call me right now, or what He might have destined me to do, I do know it will be something I will love and will be unique to me.  Everything about what God has done for me already has taught me that.  The process of re-creation itself has taught me that.  It does not have to be completed in me yet, for me to see beyond the horizon is SO much God intends for us.
To say we were all destined for greatness, is to put too small a limiter on what God actually intends for each of us.  The highest ambition of each angel surrounding the throne of God, is to do what He asks.  The highest fulfillment of perfect beings is to be used and utilized by our loving God.  This culture of service is one that can infect us, as we submit ourselves to our Lord, and allow Him to remove the “me” in me.  Re-creation is not merely about removal of self, it is about potential and purpose and something new that takes the place of self-obsession and its limitations.  Our destiny has purpose and meaning.  It will be something that is unique and required or needed.  We did not come into existence casually, or by accident of astronomical odds.  We were designed, with intent, and with purpose.  As we look around us and recognize that each person is unique, so we can believe that each person’s purpose is also unique.  It is because each of us is precious to God, that God was willing to come and sacrifice Himself to save each of us.  Even if it were only you who would have accepted the salvation of God from evil, He would have come, lived, and died just for you.  One person is so precious to God, that He would have seen His sacrifice as worth it, just for one (see the parable of the 99 sheep and 1 lost).  That makes each of us not only unique, but necessary to God.
In our world we seek to be needed, but we should be looking beyond our world, to really measure what needed is.  I like using the example of Beethoven.  I am looking forward to hearing Beethoven’s 100th piano concerto in heaven (he only has 95 more to write by my best guess).  There may be many other musical composers in heaven, all of which I may thoroughly enjoy, but there is something about the style of Beethoven I really enjoy.  If Beethoven is not there with me in heaven, heaven will be diminished.  It is not that I require Beethoven in heaven for me to want to be there, it is merely that I would find heaven even that much better with him in it.  I would love to hear his 100th piano concerto, perhaps even learn to play it myself.  That would bring me joy, as it would bring joy to others.  Beethoven is unique, he is needed, he is able to bring joy to many simply by doing what God has seen fit to bless him with doing.  Throughout the eons of time, there will never be another Beethoven.  The same is true of you.  The same is true of me.  Though neither of us may ever compensate for the loss of Beethoven if he is not with us, we may both really enjoy his company if he is; and he us.  From the perspective of Beethoven, he may really enjoy spending eternity with you, enjoying the contribution that you make to the congregation and body of heaven.  It may be your personal testimony that enriches the life of Beethoven in heaven.  It may be your service that brings him comfort and joy, and inspiration, as it does for me, and for untold others as you perform the purpose for which you alone were intended.  You see, you are no less important to God, to me, or to Beethoven than he is to us.  Each of us unique, each of us needed, each of us either adding to the beauty of heaven, or diminishing it by our absence. 
When we begin to see each other in this light, when we begin to appreciate how unique, and how critical it is we bond together for eternity – the divisions between us seem to melt away.  I do not care what skin color you are, what family you come from, what education you have, what career you chose or were forced to accept – I only care that I can show you love and help you see just how important you are to God and to me.  Your presence in heaven defines joy to me, your absence defines misery.  I wish to see the whole of heaven benefit from the purpose only you can fulfill.  Viewed in this way, it is hard for us to imagine “apathy” among the church body.  How could we casually allow the absence among us of any who we would so value in heaven?  How could we treat another so casually as to not care if they join us, or feel loved, or experience joy?  To serve that very person who perhaps we have seen as “hard to love” is perhaps the greatest joy we may encounter both in this world and the one to come.  Our destiny is to find fulfillment in a unique purpose and unique service to God.  Let us embrace this purpose today as we discover it, and recognize in others the unique contribution they will bring, and the absolute necessity of their company in our presence through all of eternity.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gifts for Forever ...

With the recognition of the work of Jesus Christ in our lives, recreating us from the inside out, comes additional gifts borne of the Holy Spirit that are poured out in our lives.  People in the world around us often subscribe to the idea that there are many paths to God.  This is true where it comes to approaching God, but finding Him, is finding Jesus Christ and joining the singular body of Christ.  Christians then define a body from the unique and multiple viewpoints of our perspectives.  And the same Holy Spirit pours out His gifts across the body as He sees fit for the edification of the church body.  Our destiny is not to simply utilize what we were born with, but to utilize what we are re-born with, the additional gifts provided by the Holy Spirit.  The apostle Paul writes extensively about these gifts in his first letter to the Corinthians beginning in chapter 12.  It is good to note that his letter was to an actual church that existed in his time, which was largely divided among the brethren, and addressing its need for unity, Paul points out to them how the gifts of the Spirit can help address these concerns.  These gifts then are designed more for the building of the church than they are to address the needs of unbelievers.

Surrender to Christ is the precursor that leads not only to our re-creation, but to an outpouring of gifts designed for the strengthening and building of the body of Christ.  It would be impossible to prophecy in truth without Christ.  Without first having come to acknowledge Christ as our savior from evil, the act of prophecy is nothing but prognostication based on logic, intuition, and history.  Everyone from sports analysts, to market analysts, to weathermen tend to make these kinds of predictions, and their work is merely informational, not transformational.  An unbeliever would not accept the prophecies wrought by Holy Spirit through the surrendered life of a Christian, simply because they do not accept the source, the divinity of the God we serve.  So the message of a prophet would be ineffectual on the obstinate heart.  But on the life of one who is willing to be remade, on the life of one who now seeks the word of the Lord in their own lives on a daily basis as the greatest aspiration they can receive, the words of the prophet of God are most prized and most treasured.  It is for this member of the body who longs to hear from the Lord, that the gift of prophecy is poured out.  And it stands to reason the message of the true prophet of Christ would guide the church into more unity, and a better understanding of the God of love. 
Prophecy however is merely one of the gifts of the Spirit that may be poured out on those who have surrendered their will to Christ.  The wider list starting in 1st Corinthians chapter 12 verse 8 includes: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, the discerning of spirits, the ability to speak in other languages, the ability to interpret other languages.  It appears this was a general list Paul felt were all considered valuable and needed in order to build up the church.  Later starting in verse 28 Paul discusses the various roles within the church that appear to correlate to the gifts he listed above, these roles are decidedly listed in order of importance were: 1.) apostles, 2.) prophets, 3.) teachers, 4.) miracles, 5.) healings, 6.) helpers, 7.) administrators (governments), and 8.) linguists (diversities of tongues).  As we examine where we might fit in the list above, there is yet another gift that appears to be even more important than anything we have listed so far.  It is unfortunate that often our study of the gifts of the Spirit ends with chapter 12 instead of continuing on into chapter 13 where Paul continues the topic.
Love is a gift of the Spirit that is MORE important than anything else Paul has listed.  In point of fact he explicitly states the value of love against the ability to “speak in tongues of men or of angels”, or “to have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries”, or “to have all knowledge”, or “to have all faith such that you could remove mountains”.  Paul decries all these abilities if one does not have love first and foremost.  An apostle, or prophet, or miracle worker, or healer, or anyone who is richly blessed by the Holy Spirit should seek first to be blessed in love.  Perhaps the most profound change that occurs when one surrenders the will to Christ is in “how” we begin to love others.  The traces that mark obedience are defined in our selfless actions of love expressed to others.  It is this love expressed that truly identifies us as followers of our Lord who set our example and defined what love is to a needing world.  Christ did not come to the world primarily to prophecy.  While He did prophecy at times, the vast preponderance of His ministry was a life of love expressed to all He came in contact with.  The priorities of Christ were clear – Love first – prophecy when appropriate (or perhaps better stated, Love always, other actions as required).  Christ lived what Paul espouses in his epistle to our Corinthian forefathers. 
Paul continues in chapter 13 to further illustrate the characteristics of love so that those who think love to be merely a romantic notion, or a parental one, or even a fraternal one see love from a wider viewpoint.  If I were to summarize I would say the expression of love is found in the absence of self, and self-focused concerns in favor of another.  In so doing Paul reiterates the priorities that Christ lived by example.  The true edification of the church body is first and foremost achieved in the selfless expression of love to others (including our brethren with which we may have differences).  It is perhaps even more interesting to see that doctrinal purity itself is not as important as the complete embrace of love to all.  Paul states in verse 2 of chapter 13 that even having “all knowledge”, “understanding all mysteries”, and “having all faith” without love is again meaningless.  It is not the ideals of doctrinal purity that Paul espouses.  It is not a sermon of depth on the proper observance of the Sabbath, or on exactly what part of our income should be considered increase and thus tithed against; no these things are not the key to unity among the body.  Instead it is love that will unite us.  And while we surrender and begin to love as our Lord loved, we begin to experience the gifts the Spirit pours out on us.
One fanciful notion Christians sometimes embrace is the idea that we can do the “right things” no matter what our motives are and by embracing “right actions” achieve positive results for ourselves and for our body.  Paul sets this idea aside as he writes in verse 3 of chapter 13 … “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”  Remembering that the goal of every gift of the Spirit is to edify the church.  When we lack love, our “right actions” are often done from a sense of obligation, or guilt, or reluctance.  We miss the blessing of giving because we care not for those we are giving to.  We do nothing to provide a witness to love expressed as it is not our love we share, merely our means.  Other hearts, even those in great need, cannot find their true needs met in our efforts because it is often evident we have no “real” interest in them.  We do what we do, often in haste, looking forward only to when our obligations will have been met and we can return to what we would really rather be doing.  This is why the body “profits nothing” from deeds that appear self-less but come from hearts that have not surrendered to Christ, and know not what it really means to love.  Doing the “right” thing for the wrong reason is yet another self-deception or empty gesture.
Love emanates from the surrendered life, the life where the believer gives over every desire, every decision, and every thought to the Lord to recreate.  And the witness is reflected in the lives that surrendered believer encounters.  When someone loves you, truly loves you, and then brings you the word of the Lord – your inclination to listen is far greater than to a stranger in the street who appears to care nothing for you personally.  Even acts of miraculous healing that come from the surrendered life of a believer to Christ tend to eliminate doubt as the source of the miracles.  The sick desire healing, but many would reject healing if they thought it be coming from master of evil.  But when the believer granted the gift of healing is a devout follower of Christ as evidenced by “how” he loves, and “how greatly” his love can be seen by others – the source of the healing is known.  Satan may have the power to heal, but his interests lie only in promoting himself, his cause, and his agenda – those things clearly against the best interest of others.  The surrendered believer seeks no fame, no fortune, and will not accept acclaim for what gifts they relay from the Lord of Love.  Instead the believer is content to be a servant of the Most High.  Their entire gratification comes from the being a tool of healing, a vessel of miracles, a speaker of His truth.  The surrendered believer knows for a fact that “they” can do none of these things, but are overwhelmed at the idea that the Lord would choose to work through them to achieve His goals.  It takes a surrender to see this occur.  Our natural inclinations will seek fame and fortune if we attempted to engage in such things before we surrendered our will to Christ.
We should also not get too absorbed in the expression of the gifts of the Spirit and instead focus on the goal of the gifts.  Paul gives a rather lengthy discussion in chapter 14 of the utility of speaking in other languages.  Having the ability to speak in a language so that others can understand your words, and your meaning is truly a gift of God.  But speaking a foreign tongue that no one in the area understands accomplished little.  Paul puts the emphasis on clear communication.  If someone is speaking another language, then someone else should be interpreting, or the meaning and the blessing is lost.  In this discussion Paul reminds us that even gifts of the Holy Spirit are designed with a purpose – not to simply demonstrate that we have them.  If I were to guess, I would imagine that speaking in other languages was the predominant gift poured out in the early church, in order to spread the gospel to those who traveled the roads to Rome and would not easily understand the gospel from the lips of a foreigner.  But those early Christians who were able to speak and be heard in the native languages of their listeners did much to spread the word.  Paul reminds the Corinthian brethren of the reason why this gift was given, and further stipulates it is the least of the gifts he has been discussing.  
It may be that in the eons of time that are to come in the perfection of heaven, that the final righteous body of Christ will not need the edification of prophecy, or healing, or apostles, or miracle workers, or efficient administrators, and decidedly not linguistic specialists.  However one gift will remain; the gift of love.  The one that Paul identifies as superseding all the others is love, and it will be love that remains a gift that lasts forever.  Our destiny was not to prophecy in part or see through a glass darkly, but it was and remains our destiny to love for all eternity.  Our human weakness requires the pouring out of the Holy Spirit to compensate for our desperate addiction to self.  We need the Holy Spirit to remind us of our need, to convict us of our errors, to bring us in humility back to the throne of grace, and to heal the wounds we inflict on each other – even those we purport to love.  Our body is wounded today by the lack of love we show to each other, and by our refusal to surrender all of ourselves to Christ.  It is these wounds that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are intended to heal.  Paul reminds us that the greatest healing of our divisions begins and ends with love.  And once love has been given its proper place in our priorities through our surrender to Christ, the remaining gifts for the edification of our collective body can be poured out.  Yet again, in the here and now, the Lord wishes us to be so much more than we are.  To be a surrendered servant of Christ, is to begin to experience the supernatural as the vehicle His Spirit intends for us to be, whatever those gifts or roles may include.  Re-creation is not reserved for the hereafter, it is employed in the here and now.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Roadmap to Infinity ...

Freedom is more than the physical removal of restrictions.  It is more than our ability to assert our preferences in political elections and policies.  And perhaps most importantly, freedom is more than simply the removal of evil from within us.  The freedom only Christ can bring as we surrender our will to Him; that freedom is limitless.  As we are unshackled from our slavery to self we are concurrently unshackled from the limitations we imposed upon ourselves and our existence.  The apostle James (1:5) tells us … “if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God …”.  To think that even our ability to reason itself is able to increase, by a mere request and faith in our liberating God, is beyond our wildest aspirations.  The limitations of IQ it seems can be broken as well.  The limitations of a poor education can be overcome regardless of age or even genetics, once we start to realize that ALL our shackles are a thing of the past through Christ.  When we start to realize that our current and future existence was destined to be boundless, we can start to live life in this way.  Not because we are inherently god-like when self-realization occurs, but rather because when we fully surrender ourselves we are able to fully reflect our God through us.  It is His power reflected through us, and as nothing is able to limit our God, our existence can be measured against His abilities and not our own.

An infinite life expectancy is not just measured by endless years of time; it is also defined by limitless pursuits of love.  The gifts of love that God bestows upon us never seem to have an off-switch.  When James exhorts us to ask for wisdom from God, he does not specify we should only ask once, or twice, or limit our requests to some predefined number.  Instead he states an obvious truth, when we feel our need, we should ask.  Perhaps the greatest reason our IQ’s do not exceed the Einstein’s or DaVinci’s of history is that we think ourselves “wise enough”.  We are “wise enough” to get to our jobs, manage our families, maintain our friendships, and absorb the lessons from school or church.  Sure we might feel a periodic pressure from an upcoming test we need help with, or project due in our employment; but in general we think ourselves capable enough to meet most of life’s challenges, therefore not especially in “need” of God’s wisdom.  This thinking is borne of the disease of evil.  Since we are less able to deduce how much better our lives could be, we are more content to remain where we are, than to pursue what might otherwise be limitless.  Evil has made mediocrity our norm, and has tempered expectations to the statistical bell curve of humanity.  But this was not, and is not, our destiny.  We are free to seek the wisdom of God on our knees, and in our prayers, as often as we wish.  Since when is “wise enough” a standard by which we measure infinity?  Perhaps growing wiser in the wisdom of God is something we will never grow tired of experiencing, and as James exhorts, it begins now.
A never-ending increase in wisdom leads to a never-ending understanding of truth.  There is more buried in the words of scripture than a cursory reading will reveal.  But this deeper truth was not meant to be withheld from us, it was meant to be discovered.  It is simply that we have tried to ascertain it in the limited wisdom we allow ourselves.  When we realize that no matter how smart we think ourselves today, an offer from God to increase our wisdom is ever on the table, all we need do is ask for it and believe and know He answers our requests.  In effect, we are only taking God up on His offers that exist already.  And a deeper understanding of truth is something He longs to provide us with.  He longs to share things of deeper meaning with us, particularly those of a spiritual nature.  But He has been confined to work with our limited ability to understand – mostly because we refuse to ask to increase our own understanding.  It is the mental equivalent of trying to run a race only using one leg.  We may think we are doing great hopping along on one foot in our race, but the simple use of the other leg would add a whole new dimension to speed, than hopping could ever hope to produce.  A more accurate self-assessment, is that we are never done “needing” what God longs to provide.  And no matter our lack of ability to perceive it, our “need” is truly severe and immediate.
Where wisdom is concerned it may not be God’s intent to make each of us quantum physicists; but is worth noting that subjects of that nature are child’s play for the God who invented the rules and equations that define them.   However wisdom that produces fruit is always something God longs to share.  For example, we think our marriages “good enough” when we can get through the day without fighting like cats and dogs (over money or in-laws), killing the children (so to speak), and still being able to maintain a quasi-squishy lovey-dovey feeling for our spouse.   That’s life right?  But an increase of wisdom that yields a new set of ideas and creativity that would bring something new and special to the life of our spouse; or a new approach in teaching our children with an effect so as to yield positive results that will endure for the length of their lives; these aspirations are possible when the limits of our minds have been eliminated.  In short a marriage that relies on human wisdom and human strength, carries with it inherent human limitations.  But what happens when boundless is the rule of the day?  What happens to the quality of a marriage that does not rely on human limitations but on the infinite potential of God?  The result is a level of love that makes a quasi-squishy feeling look like the puppy love of a teenager.  Instead comes a deep and abiding love that cannot be moved, or perhaps even tempted.  When human limitations give way to infinite potential founded and rooted in God, there is no limit to what the love in our families can become.
We must allow God to unlock our minds to what is really possible with Him.  In this way we can begin to see past the self-imposed boundaries that evil has come to suggest are our limits.  Heaven is not about the golden concrete, it is about the infinite potential.  And the Kingdom of God, has not been withheld from us for a future date, as our Lord Himself has said … “it has come”.  The infinite potential of our destiny is not something we must wait to experience.  It is something on our roadmap that begins in the here and now and sees tangible results in our day-to-day experiences.  When we let go of our mediocre expectations and begin to realize the infinite in our current reality, we realize better just what God has in mind for each of us.  This begins when we allow God to change “how” we think.  The disease of evil acts as an impairment to what God intended us to be.  It acts as an inhibitor to His divine destiny for each of us.  This is why the full elimination of evil from within us should be our first and foremost concern.  This is why no evil must remain a part of us, no cherished sin worth holding on to.  When evil is fully gone from us, we will be able to fully realize what God has in mind for us.  To accept our existence with evil as a part of who we are, is to accept a constrained life unable to reach the potential of the infinite.  Only a full surrender of everything that we are to Christ, can result in unlocking our minds through His daily re-creation of who we are from the inside out.
It is interesting the things that God values from an infinite point of view.  Wealth for example, is a relatively hollow pursuit with little tangible value, particularly from God’s point of view.  How could God even measure wealth in terms we utilize?  How much gold is enough for God, or diamonds perfectly cut, or in silver coins stacked how high?  The city of heaven was described in brilliant beautiful terminology and yet Christ forsook it all, in favor of redeeming us, His children, from the evil we had embraced.  Apparently from the point of view of God, trinkets and minerals matter very little when measured against the infinite potential of even one of His living creations.  Scripture does not condemn earthly wealth, but it does see it as more of a “burden” than a blessing.  This is because how we value wealth distracts us from what is truly of value, each other.  Too often we are consumed with the acquisition of wealth, in order to bring a life of ease and comfort, and thereby we insulate ourselves from what is truly of value.  Even if our collection of trinkets was infinite, what would they truly be worth?  Compare planet sized collections of pure golden coins, with a spouse who spends every day determining and acting out new ways to enrich your life, and demonstrate to you the love that is ever growing within them for you.  Planets of gold guarded in isolation afraid to lose what has been amassed, or a simple love that is ever growing and constantly demonstrated – no contest.  God could have simply made entire empty universes of golden planets if He valued that mineral as much as we seem to.  He did not.  Gold is not what God thinks is limitless, but people are.  We are.  And our God is constantly thinking and inventing new ways to reach us and show us exactly how much He loves us.  This action of showing us love is what brings fulfillment and joy to Him. 
Our gratitude is important to Him, but our acceptance of His gifts means even more.  God longs to give us His wisdom.  He longs to increase our ability to reason so that we might better understand Him and what is truly important in our existence.  He longs to take away our sins and addiction to self and evil, not because we deserve it, but because He loves us and hates to see us bound to suffering and death.  God longs to pour our His Holy Spirit into our lives and with it the endowment of spiritual gifts.  These are things God sees as infinite.  An infinite love is something God wishes to share with us, unbound by our self-inflicted limitations and addiction to evil.  Accepting these gifts from God brings HIM pure joy, as He knows what it will do to our lives.  He finds joy when we find joy.  He finds love in us, when we allow Him to place it there.   He is able to better talk with us, when we allow Him to do so.  He longs to remove the restrictions from us that self-obsession has imposed.  We just need to let Him.  Our need of Him is so much greater than we perceive.  Our need of Him is extreme and immediate, but masked by our affliction of evil.  Satan seeks to distract us from our need of God, so that our infinite potential in Him is never realized.  Satan easily defeats humanity, but is powerless in the face of divinity.  When we allow God to re-create us, it is God who inhabits us, and He who Satan sees when he attempts to confront us.  Only then do we resist him, and find him fleeing from the God he sees reflected in us.  It is not we who Satan fears; it is our God we allow within us.
A better perspective is demanded by those who would seek to reach the infinite.  What is valued throughout eternity should be what we place value upon in the here and now.  Those things which are neither constrained by evil, nor limited in eternity, are the things with which we should seek to spend more of our energy on.  In short, it is people we will be joined with throughout the eons of time.  This is why relieving the plight of their suffering in a world of sin, takes so much a priority within the scriptures.  The reason why the widow, and fatherless, the poor, the afflicted, the naked, those in prison take such a prominent place in the admonitions of scripture – is that these souls have great needs that we can be a part of relieving if we will but spend a bit of our energy in their direction right now.  In heaven, it will require a degree of intellect and creativity to find new ways to demonstrate our love for each other.  But in the world of pain in which we live today, the needs are much clearer, and more immediate.  By demonstrating our love now to those in need of love, we reflect the great desire to love of our Father who is in heaven.  It is in this way, we show the world around us, what the will of the Father is.  Christ was always working to relieve the misery of those He encountered.  His judgments were reserved for those who saw themselves in no great need (ironically the religious leaders of His day).  But His mercy was always poured out without reserve on the desperate.
Are we to see ourselves as merely the “religious leaders” of Christianity today, or will we allow Christ to live out His will to relieve the suffering of those around us as we surrender ourselves to Him?  To examine in life what is of infinite value, is to see that love is never enough.  Therefore to demonstrate love to those in need may be just what they require to awaken to what is boundless, and what is possible.  To those in great need, a simple demonstration of love, a simple gesture of kindness in action, is a miracle of its own.  Imagine how many people pass by the needs of the downtrodden before the one takes action to help relieve his suffering.  The “good Samaritan” (described in Luke 10:30-37) was not the first person on the scene to encounter someone in desperate need, he was merely the first person to take action to see the need relieved.  In this parable, the image of a “Samaritan” conjured up imagery of an evil addicted hopeless person whose religious ideology was based in error.  Jews despised Samaritans for their lack of purity.  Yet the Samaritan does the very thing that the supposedly doctrinally correct spiritual leaders refused to do – to save a man in need.  Christ teaches us a different perspective in this story.  He shows us that no matter what our doctrinal belief system; the injured man on the road needs our love, more than our ideology.   A demonstration of love that knows no limits is an enactment of the will of the Father. 
The Samaritan was not praised by Christ for his doctrinal understanding, nor was he glorified by Christ as some sort of saint.  Christ was pointing out the practicality of love to change the life of another.  He was showing that love in action is more a reflection of His Father’s will than any perceived piety of religious leaders.  In short, it is love that is infinite, as it is demonstrated.  The Samaritan was indeed “wiser” than his more doctrinally accurate contemporaries, as the wisdom God values was reflected in “how” he loved the life of a stranger.  Were that story true, the friendship and bonds of love those two men would surely have established in the here and now, would be with them throughout the eons of time in the place we call heaven.  It is this story of salvation that shows us the nature of love in action.  The stranger did not already know the men who passed him by in this time of need.  But I would be willing to bet, he would certainly want to meet the one who saved him, and paid the price for his recovery.  I would be willing to bet, the victim on the road would want to know more about “why” that good Samaritan would have stopped to save him a stranger in need.  And in the seeking of the knowledge of that love, is the living witness of the God it is we serve.  It was not the Sabbath truth, or the beauty of tithing, or the promissory system of sacrifice for the atonement of sin, that would lead the robbery victim to seek our God.  It was instead the living demonstration of a God of love in action that would make a tangible difference to one in need.  And the love that moves a heart to action, can be boundless in its application, both here and for all eternity.
It is our destiny to discover the infinite.  Our limitations of self are removed through the process of re-creation as we surrender our will to Christ.  And what we find that is valued through all eternity is a love that knows no limits, and was first demonstrated in action by the very life of our God Jesus Christ.  While the beauty of truth is better understood by the wisdom God longs to give us.  It will never be better defined in our reality than when we apply wisdom to demonstrate love in the life of another.  This is the hidden truth ever revealed in the proper study of doctrine, that infinite love is at the core of every truth, or it is not truth you are examining.  And there is no better place to see what infinite love looks like than in the life of Jesus Christ.  We need not be content therefore to accept the mediocrity of human limitations.  We can instead find our current existence unbound by self.  We can explore marriages that know no limits in joy or service.  We can explore relationships with our parents, our children, our families, and our friends that we never dared to dream could be so rewarding.  We can even begin to see the melting away of our enemies, into what will ever be our closest friends, as we let love dissolve negativity and divinity dissolve mediocrity.  The selfless expression of love is our roadmap to infinity.