Sunday, November 22, 2015

Poop might be just what you need!

“Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’ “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭13:6-9‬ ‭NLT‬

When the ax is ready, Jesus steps in and says, let me dig around her roots and poor fertilizer around them. If she doesn't bear fruit for another year, then I'll chop it down. 

Jesus works to give us one last chance, but we may fail to recognize it, since from our point of view things will be quite uncomfortable. Who wants their roots disturbed? Who wants soil removed to expose the buried parts of oneself? When that is done, the final step is to apply fertilizer. We know how good that is for a garden, but would you sign up for having poop applied all around your core? I wouldn't. 

But without it, we won't bear fruit. And by 'it,' I mean digging, rousting, removing and exposing. I mean having stinky circumstances that are embarrassing, painful, confusing and life changing. These are the things that wake us up to an eternal perspective and inspire us to work more for the Kingdom than this ashen world.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Who Needs the Church?

We are taught to have faith in God alone. We are taught to not rely on people for success or happiness because people fail. God is reliable because He is God. He never casts a shifting shadow (James 1:17). He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He will not crush the weakest reed or snuff out a flickering candle (Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20). His word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). He keeps His promises (Deuteronomy 7:9). So, that is God. Trust Him. Obey Him. Rely on Him. He won't let you down. 

We are taught with equal emphasis to not trust people. We cannot realistically rely in others for our happiness or success. All that God is, people are not. (Romans 3:10-18) In fact Scriptures admonish people to not even trust their own hearts!  (Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21) Wow!  If we cannot even trust ourselves, it seems pretty foolish to lean on anyone else. 

But then there is the Church. This is where it gets really messy. -1-Trust and obey God, -2-do not rely on people, -3-the church (essentially the people of God) is God's gift to people to help them get through this life on fallen earth. What are we supposed to do with that?

On the one hand, we trust God.  I mean, let's say I am going skydiving for the first time. I listen to every word the instructor says like my life depends on it--because it does!  So, as he hands me my gear, declaring, "you'll want these, that, and this," I will agree wholeheartedly that I want them all and grab up everything he offers. I'd be crazy not to. 

I trust God, and I am jumping into a free-falling world. So, I hang on to the Instructor's Words. I grab onto every piece of gear he offers and tuck them close to my body. I fix the earpiece firmly in place so that I will hear any further words of guidance. 

What is the equipment god gives?  I see three main things that every Christian receives as help to live an abundant life here and now: the Holy Spirit, the Bible and the Church. 

The Holy Spirit is God in us loving us as Counselor, Advocate, Comforter.  John 14:16 says "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.  The world cannot receive him, because it isn't looking for him and doesn't recognize him.  But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you."  Further in the chapter, at verse 26, Jesus continues, "But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative--that is, the Holy Spirit--he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you."

The Bible is the Word of God.  It is a reliable, breathing text we use to grow one another up in the Lord. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.  It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work." 

Now we come to the Church. We are the Body of Christ, reaching into this world with the Gospel of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation to the One True God. Jesus built the Church, and almost all of the New Testament is written to the Church.  These letters were expected to be read to the gathering of believers.  The instructions and encouragements are for all who call Christ Lord and Savior. 
Check out 
Romans 15:14 
And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.
Colossians 3:16
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Luke 17:3
Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him
1 Thessalonians 5:14
We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
All of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 speak to the form and function of the church. 
After reading just these few excerpts, knowing there is so much more of the same, I am thinking the Church is some 'gear' that I will 'be wanting' to get me through this 'jump.' 

I have no issue with working alongside people who share truth and love, ministering to the lost. But here is the trouble. Remember all that wisdom from the beginning?  Rely on God alone. He is my rock.  My all in all. He says I need this Church, not only as co-workers, but as encouragers, companions and givers of love.  They aren't co-workers. The Church is not a business. They are family (Ephesians 2:19). I am to submit to the people in my church (Ephesians 5:21). I am to confess to them and ask for prayers (James 5:16). These things call for interdependence, vulnerability and transparency. But the Church is made of people. People!  Flawed, selfish, lying, betraying heart breakers. And I need this?   I'd like to argue.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Beware the yeast

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23 NLT

“Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.”
‭‭James‬ ‭4:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Remember Daniel's interpreting the king's dream of the statue with the clay and iron feet?  We can read about it in chapter 2. In verse 43, we hear Daniel explain that the blending of theses two materials makes both weak. They do not mix at all, so it is just a whole mass of seams that work like perforations: highlighting weaknesses to be attacked.  When I think about Christians trying to absorb the values and lifestyle of their culture, I think about iron and clay. What God offers is strong and perfect, like iron.  The baked clay of human tradition is less so, by a lot.  And they do not blend.  We can try to comfort ourselves thinking that if we are attacked that the weak clay will be the only thing to crumble and the iron will survive any smashing. But picture it:  what will the iron be after being crushed?  Raw material, twisted remnants that cut and injure. The spaces that the clay occupied will leave gaping holes that separate the iron, leaving it strewn about without a form or a function. 

These are just my ponderings, though.  The Christian life was never compared to iron and clay in the Bible.

Jesus went further. 

Matthew 16:6-12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1. 

Jesus warns us to beware the yeast of Pharisees. What does that mean?  Is it the people who are Pharisees?  I do not think so, because Paul was a Pharisee, as was Nicodemus. Jesus ate in the homes of Pharisees. Jesus also talked with, taught, and healed at least one roman's servant.  He is not against people. He came specifically to save them.

But he did scold people.  Why?  For their practices and teachings! He does not like sin and really does not like people in authority leading others into sin. Jesus took special interest in Pharisees teaching and practicing laws that were added to Moses' laws delivered by God. Luke 11:46, mark 7:7 ff. 

So, the yeast we must beware of is the teachings of the Pharisees. False teachings that do not blend with the Truth of God. 

One problem with man-made traditions is that they seem so harmless. More than that, they often seem good and wise.  Just thinking about a new rule that will eliminate confusion brings sighs of peace. Men are pretty smart. We are creative. This is no surprise, since we are made in God's image. So our traditions often make a lot of sense!  We go along because it is a well-worn path. And often, there is no conflict to our consciences in doing so.  So, what's the problem? There isn't one; until we are lulled into trusting the ways of men. Have you ever heard anyone say, 'I do not know why we do it that way; it's just how we have always done it.'  

That leads us to the other problem with man-made traditions: we cannot serve two masters. There is a point when there will be disagreement, and you have to choose what or who is supreme. Sadly, we realize this after following along so blindly and so easily for so long, our minds are asleep to the conflict. 

In Galatians, Paul affirms Jesus' assertions to avoid the yeast that would re-enslave us after Jesus' work that freed us. He speaks specifically about circumcision, but I believe it is reasonable to apply it to any false teaching.  “For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.” Galatians 5:6-10 NLT

Yeast.  It is a leavener that permeates every iota of dough to which it is added. There is no compartmentalizing. Remember those feet made of iron and clay?  While not strong, and not blended, we can physically point to what is iron and what is clay. It is obvious.  In a blend with yeast, however, there is no distinction. Yeast touches everything. You cannot make a loaf with yeast and find a piece of that bread without it. 

So, when we try to blend the world with the Way, we have a real problem. Jesus said beware. False teaching comes in and touches everything. It is messy.  And once in, it is hard to identify.  It blends so smoothly. 

I would like to end with Psalm 101 by King David. It is easy to dismiss the idea of living this zealously because it talks about hating people and ridding the city of evil. Since The work of the Messiah, we are not to hate any people, and none of us has servants of any caliber.  But does that mean we cannot internalize this Psalm for our own lives in Christ?  Do we really want to be this focused on living for God?  Listen to all the 'I will's. Will you?

“I will sing of your love and justice, LORD. 
I will praise you with songs. 
I will be careful to live a blameless life— when will you come to help me? 
I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. 
I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. 
I hate all who deal crookedly; 
I will have nothing to do with them. 
I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. 
I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. 
I will not endure conceit and pride. 
I will search for faithful people to be my companions. Only those who are above reproach will be allowed to serve me. 
I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house, and liars will not stay in my presence. My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked and free the city of the LORD from their grip.” Psalms 101:1-8 NLT

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Written All Over My Face

Revelation 22:4 reads: “And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads.”

This is a neat use of words. I do not think it is literal. I do not imagine we will be walking around with lettering on our faces.

Instead, I remember old cartoons of eyes turning into protruding dollar signs or pulsing hearts to express the character's all-consuming adulation and worship of an object. 

More realistically, I call to mind all the momma's faces I have seen when they first hold their newborns. Aren't the babies' names written on the faces of those sweaty, worn out, exultant moms?  We do not even need to see the child when we look at mom. Everything that matters is already on her face. 

I imagine this is what we will reflect when we finally get to stand in front of the throne of God. We will be reflecting back His glory, as the moon does the sun. But more!  All metaphors will be gone, all analogy passé, all comparisons obsolete. We will be in the overwhelming reality of the realized promise.  We will be living in a way these fallen bodies cannot. 

How I long for that day!  Until then, I must continue to strive for His name to be written on this face I have now. I must wait with confident expectation that I will one day be in His presence with a new body that will withstand His glory. As I wait, I pray saving from distraction and urgency to invite others to wait with me.