Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Message of Paradox

"The Bible's riches and comforts can not be exhausted from a single viewing platform. A quick trip to the moon would render an understanding of the planet earth that walking upon it's crust does not offer, as would another trip to the bottom of the ocean. Without this understanding, the Bible is an impossible document to understand, follow, or offer up as useful to anyone in the pursuit of the abundant life. Additionally, the understanding that it has your introduction to Jesus Christ as it's primary purpose and reason is essential for it to produce any life that is lasting in you at all." - Yours Truly
And it is the paradox I find in Scripture that makes this so unspeakably clear, and sets me so unconditionally free. Paradox, such as:
I am obligated to carry your burden (Gal 6:2) and to teach you to take care of your own burdens (Gal 6:5).
I am to not grow weary in doing good (Gal 6:9) and understand that none are good (Rom 3:12).
I am to know that all sin and fall short (Rom 3:23) and that all are to be perfect (Matt 5:48).
I am told that Jesus was without sin (Heb 4:25) and that he learned obedience and was made perfect (Heb 5:8).
I am told that the Law was good for us (Rom 7:12) and that the Law was against us (Col 2:14).
I know that all sin is forgivable (Matt 12:31) and that there is unforgivable sin (Matt 12:31).
I know that all things are attributable to God (1 Tim 6:15) and that not all things are attributable to God (James 1:13).
I know God can do what I want (Mark 14:36) and that it is not about God doing what I want (Mark 14:36).
Lying is absolutely wrong (Col 3:9) and lying can be used in faith (Heb 11:31).
All of these statements, a small sampling of paradox in Scripture, are true. They must be seen from different vantage points to be understood. This is hard a hard teaching for the young and for those who grow old finding security only in the black-and-white.
But for the mature, it unlocks layer upon layer of truer truth and spiritual guidance in Scripture, and holds the promise for never-ending exploration and discovery right there between the covers of the Good Book.
And so goes my relationship with Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

That's Just the Way I Am

"You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." - Paul, to the Colossians
"That's just they way I am." - Humanity
"Followers of Christ are constantly transforming right before your very eyes. That's just the way we are." - Yours Truly
The most fantastic people I know are the ones who have forsaken all, and continue to forsake all at ever-increasing depths, to become more like Jesus Christ.
Regardless of their starting point (family of origin issues, bodily physical conditions, habit inclinations, genetic programmings, tragic events, epic mistakes, race, nationality, sex, religious upbringing), all the most incredible people have decided to be annihilated by the love of God and consider it all loss for the sake of the singular vision of becoming more like Christ in heart.
Regardless of their gift sets (academic aptitude, physical prowess, contemplative inclinations, social dexterity, athletic competence), all of the most amazing people are glad to leave them undeveloped or obliterated for the greater life of moving ever closer to the patterns of thinking and doing exhibited and embodied by Jesus Christ.
Regardless of their personality traits (talkative or quiet, thinking or feeling, confrontive or submissive, ENFP or ISTJ, Beaver or Otter, love-to-read or hate-to-read, risky or cautious, detail-oriented or big-picture,Type A or B, High D, I, S, or C), they are glad to have their peculiarities, uniqueness and distinctiveness obliterated for their desire above all things to lose themselves in the life of Christlikeness.
It is a wise man who gives up the things that make him foolish in the eyes of man for the greater qualities of Christ and all the peace and joy found in them.
Wiser still is the man who gives up the things that make him look special and set apart from other men, in which he is so helplessly inclined to find both his value and excuses, for the greater and universally accessible image of our Creator.
"For Christ-followers, there is no excusing or explaining yourself with the phrase, 'that's just the way I am'. There is only one 'I Am', and we are to all being restored into Him." - My version of a Don Stone quote that my friend Debra Schardein thinks she remembers him saying

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Bible

"The holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." - Paul, to his disciple Timothy

"I adore the fullness of the Scriptures." - Tertullian

"We must not rest content with having given a superficial reading to a chapter or two, but with the candle of the Spirit we must deliberately seek out the hidden meaning of the word." - Charles Spurgeon

Long have I romanticized the picture of the old sage pouring over the cracked and ancient pages filled with some words of old. There is something mysterious and attractive about it to me. Something wise. 

Gandalf, in the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, upon the discovery that the magic ring of invisibility of his old friend Bilbo was actually the famous, long lost and evil "Ring of Power", rode urgently off to the the old city of Gondor to a basement in the White Castle filled with volumes and volumes of old leather bound books and stacks of dusty-but-preserved parchments and scrolls. Records of history and stories of old. He went to diligently find out about the past so that he might understand the present, and also the future that was constantly rolling towards him. He needed guidance. He needed more information. He needed context for the story he and the cast of characters around him found themselves in.

Something in me likes this kind of scene best when much is at stake. Not mere academic exercise. Not just the practice of increasing knowledge as if knowledge has value in the mere having of it. I like it best when much is at stake, and the careful and diligent "study of things" is going to help shape things, people, and actions in a story where life and death is at stake.

The Bible is the centerpiece of a library that I have created. I have invested in quite a few old books, parchments, and papyrus that give me the "feel" (superficial as it may be) of that romantic picture as I long for deeper wisdom that can only come from the knowledge and stories and experiences of many men's lifetimes combined, which can be found abundantly in those men's books. I dare say the most influential stories and men and experiences, at least for me, are recorded in the Bible...I would not ever be without it for as long as it is in my power to choose.

The Bible is saturated with layers and layers of wisdom and profound, life-giving truth. It claims it to be true itself, which would in and of itself not be proof, by my experience has verified it. One simple verse from the wealth of it's thousands can contain dozens of different, profound lessons, each hidden one becoming accessible to a man only when he takes a new step of personal growth. With maturation, another layer of ancient truth may come surging forth from the same familiar verse that he has read hundred's of times. And this experience can happen dozens of times in his lifetime.

The Bible requires reading, of course. But it also requires searching's. Not mere researching, but searching's. The sort of searching's you would expect from a hunter tracking his prey, a mother looking for her lost child, a buyer looking for the best price, a drug addict looking for his next fix, a lawyer looking for precedent, a pilgrim looking for a homeland, a woman looking for a husband, a teenager looking for an adrenaline rush, an activist looking for a worthy cause, the hungry looking for a survival meal, a batter looking for a hit, a failure looking for consolation, a child playing hide-and-seek with his dad at home, and like a soldier looking for his enemy, or for his comrade, or for his backup, or for his weapon, or for a medic after being wounded, or for his chopper-ride out of enemy territory. All of these and more are samplings of the "searching's" that would reap great and varied rewards out of the Good Book.

There are countless ways to approach and search scripture. And we should dedicate our lives to exhausting them all. The Bible has milk for the maturing and meat for the mature. It's fullness will never be exhausted by the comprehensive study of all mankind who have and will invest in it. The Bible will repay the searcher. And when a man leaves the simple and rational study of it (appropriate for the beginner) and opens his heart to being guided by the Spirit as he reads, hold on! That man, who knows the Scriptures, and then is instilled with the power of God behind him as he reads will identify truer truths than he has yet been allowed. Did not Jesus distinguish this when he said, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God." The Scriptures are but one glorious thing - knowable to man through study, and the power of God quite another glorious thing - knowable to man only through the Spirit of God. This man will start encountering new treasures and not just old. As Jesus said, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." The study of the Law as law renders great treasures of old, but when he is then reading it from the perspective of Christ's Kingdom (let the hearer understand)...he will see dimensions and levels of truth unseeable to him before!

Do you think smartest among the Jews of old read the Law of Moses and understood that he was writing about Jesus Christ? I fear not, for even when Jesus showed up right in front of the Jews he had to instruct them,"If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me."

Sad are the days when people try to read the Bible and only see great stories, guiding principles, convicting rebukes, or paths to salvation (all treasures, make no mistake) and miss the person of Jesus Christ (the Treasure that all treasures endeavor to point us to). Sad indeed are the people who only find salvation for their souls upon their death through Jesus' blood and miss out on the friendship of Jesus Christ available in this life.

Jesus is a sweet friend. A powerful lord. A compassionate forgiver. An exacting King. An intimidating presence. A disarming servant. A brother-at-arms and mighty in battle. A smiling companion. A sincere guide. A disciplining father. And a right-in-the-nick-of-time savior.

The Bible tells me so.




The Greek word here rendered search signifies a strict, close, diligent, curious search, such as men make when they are seeking gold, or hunters when they are in earnest after game. We must not rest content with having given a superficial reading to a chapter or two, but with the candle of the Spirit we must deliberately seek out the hidden meaning of the word. Holy Scripture requires searching--much of it can only be learned by careful study. There is milk for babes, but also meat for strong men. The rabbis wisely say that a mountain of matter hangs upon every word, yea, upon every title of Scripture. No man who merely skims the book of God can profit thereby; we must dig and mine until we obtain the hid treasure. The door of the word only opens to the key of diligence. The Scriptures claim searching. They are the writings of God, bearing the divine stamp and imprimatur-- who shall dare to treat them with levity? He who despises them despises the God who wrote them. God forbid that any of us should leave our Bibles to become swift witnesses against us in the great day of account. The word of God will repay searching. God does not bid us sift a mountain of chaff with here and there a grain of wheat in it, but the Bible is winnowed corn--we have but to open the granary door and find it. Scripture grows upon the student. It is full of surprises. Under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, to the searching eye it glows with splendor of revelation, like a vast temple paved with wrought gold, and roofed with rubies, emeralds, and all manner of gems. No merchandise like the merchandise of Scripture truth. Lastly, the Scriptures reveal Jesus: "They are they which testify of Me." No more powerful motive can be urged upon Bible readers than this: he who finds Jesus finds life, heaven, all things. Happy he who, searching his Bible, discovers his Savior.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Where are they?

"I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do." God
Where are these people?
Who has God found among us who is after His own heart?
Who can He boast about, someone who will do everything He wants him to do...
    ...regardless of the cost and consequences?
    ...without taking a knee to the obstacles?
    ...resolved, finally and steadfastly?
Where are the BELIEVERS?
I don't know who God was talking to when He said these words about David. But I think He was bragging. Oh, sure, I think He was being factual and accurate. I think He was being practical, power and influence and rule to a man who's motives and intent line up with His own for His people. But I think he was primarily bragging. You know how God is about His own glory (He is the only being existing that can be self-promoting and it be a gift to everyone). He was showing off His own greatness through the trust, priorities, heart, and love of David as seen through his dog-gone, sold-out, signed-on commitment to followership of this God Yahweh.
Can God find David's heart, one that is like His own heart, in a man today?
Please, Lord, grant me the grace that it be me. Grant me the grace that it be my wife. My children. My church family. Please, Lord, forge me and mine into quality that You would be able to point at our hearts and brag to all the authorities and hosts of all of your creation. Bring Your Kingdom in all it's authority to bear over your church on all the earth, and instill in us the heart of David, Your own heart, a heart that will show off your glory and light throughout the cosmos.
It is not that this heart is unavailable to me, or you. It's that we don't believe it's attainable. Well that's the problem, folks. The only one really. We don't believe. And that's the work, too. To believe. That's it.
"The work of God is this: to believe in Jesus." - Jesus
Let's admit it. Most of us know what we need to do, have the time to do it, understand that the real answer to "how" is "yes", have the Resources to pull it off, know that more abundant life is the result...yet, we don't pull the trigger. We don't count the cost. We don't keep our eyes open. We don't accept responsibility. We don't surrender to God's power. We just don't BELIEVE.
I love you, Father. Make me like the Son of David. Make me like Christ. I believe...forgive my unbelief.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On Change

"I think we severely underestimate how committed we are to remaining the same." - Yours Truly
And the capacity we have to manipulate ourselves into staying that way is gargantuan. much of your conversation is a defense of who or how you are? Oh, you are talking about various things and issues and people...but just under the surface of that is where I want us to check. How much of what you say and do, out loud to others and in your mind to yourself, is really a defense against healthy evaluation and change?
And this is not about feeling guilty, or defending yourself from thoughts that make you feel guilty. The very idea of being able to have serious thoughts of change, without guilt, is one of the very changes that we are so committed to not making.
You are holy and you are being made holy, the Scripture says. You are faithful and are called to be more faithful, it proclaims. You are saved, and you are working out your salvation, the letters record. Your eternal life is secure as a follower of Christ, and your life is constantly transforming into his image as a follower of Christ. I think of some of the Kings of old being crowned King as children. They are the King, and they are becoming the King. How silly it would be for him to feel guilty as a child when he makes a mistake that isn't very "kingly". How wasteful of time would it be for him to dwell on the guilt he feels because of the instructions, guidance, or help of someone who wants nothing but to lovingly help him grow up into "kingliness".
It is our flesh, defending how we are, trying to keep us the same, that does such things.
How likely is it that you will get up tomorrow and do something significantly and core-level different, even if you set your mind to do so only for one day? And are you aware of how you feel when it is even suggested that it might be a good idea?
How noble are my plans! They are high and mighty, with my eyes set to the summit of Christ-likeness as my ideal and real goal! And, oh, how I manipulate myself out of taking my next courageous step towards it. Why? Because I would have to change. Really change.
And I think I really underestimate how committed I am to staying the same.
"Unless you change you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven." -- Jesus Christ
For some, the waiting game is just gonna have to do. They will endure this life as it comes and as they are...waiting and longing for Heaven. For others, they want it to be here on earth as it is in Heaven. They want the kingdom's rule now. They will USE this shape them and forge them into living the Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
Most days, I am the latter. But I will have to fight against the gravity of the earth, the gravity of the dark kingdom of status quo, and the gravity of most of the people around me in my life...and change...if I want to enter it.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Resist him.

"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." - St. Peter

"Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." - St. James
"If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" - Solomon
"I have never seen anything like this." - tour guide in the video, and what the world should be saying when they see the church family in action on their behalf 
We live in a world at war.
The attacks seem to come from land and water, don't they? From the front and behind. Life, in the highest sense of the word, seems lost and elusive. Attacked and on the brink of death...and feeling so alone.
Where is Christ? Where is he? Where are his people? Where are they? As tentative and as scared as we are of losing our own life in the process, Christ moves in and us and through us as a body, a family, an army, a mob (if you like) --- FULL OF POWER. The power to act. The power to support. The power to resist. The power to fight. The power to save.
Check out this video (it lasts 8 minutes, but is worth it) as a visual parable right from nature of what life is often like (in the surprise attacks of our prowling enemy) and what God intends the church family to be for the "least of these" (which is each and every one of us at some point). 
"At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength... And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." - St. Paul