Sunday, September 21, 2014

Trust-based living

Yesterday hubby and I went to see my mom and brother in a neighboring province. As we got ready to leave their house, I noticed a cat sitting on the door-step, about two feet away from the door, meowing. The cold wind was blowing its long fur, but it kept its distance from the door. "Who is this?" I asked my mom. 

"Oh that's the neighbor's cat." She sighed. "They don't feed her, so she comes here about once a day for her breakfast. Sometimes she comes at suppertime too. But," she warned, "don't try to get close. She's wild and she'll bite. Sunk her teeth into my hand when I tried to touch her." 

As I opened the door, the cat shrank back away from me. It crouched, laid its ears back, and then held its ground. I could tell this animal was as close to feral as I've ever seen - there was a total lack of trust in its eyes. I didn't need to use much imagination to figure out how it got that way.

I was familiar with the family my mom spoke about. All my childhood, they'd abused their animals through ignorance, neglect, and physical violence, and I was never permitted to intervene. The attitude of the day was that animals were nothing but property and that it wasn't my place to tell another person how to treat his or her property. Little if anything bothered me as much as someone mistreating a creature that couldn't defend itself, and that hasn't changed. I bristled, and was sputtering indignant, unintelligible syllables as I walked down the stairs and toward our vehicle. Once inside, I ranted to my husband. He listened. He agreed. He sympathized. 

Our cat, Loki - at 10 months
And when we got home, our cat ran to meet us at the door. He purred, and rubbed against our legs, curling his tail around them as he showed his delight in our presence. "Love and kindness," I thought, "produces trust. And love in return." 

The contrast between the two cats' reactions was like night and day. The cat on Mom's doorstep didn't trust anyone - had learned not to trust anyone, because it had grown up in a loveless atmosphere. The one who greeted us at our door knew love. He knew gentleness and tenderness. And he loved - and trusted.

I couldn't help thinking how there are believers in Christendom who believe that God is a big bully with a rule-book. Even if they SAY that they believe He is love, they talk about Him withholding blessings, or other such cause-and-effect legalistic stuff. They truly believe that it is their responsibility to "maintain" what God has already given so freely, by "producing fruit" (as if any of it was up to them.) 

I used to be in that camp ... and the more I grow to know and be known by Jesus, the more I realize that God is not like those neighbors who provide a cold, drafty barn and little else (and certainly not affection or tenderness!) for what are supposed to be "companion" animals. He's full of joy and delight just because we are His children. He loves us individually (isn't that the meaning of "whosoever"?) and gives us all things - starting with full and free forgiveness through His grace, power for living day-to-day through His grace, unconditional love and acceptance past, present and future, and oh yes, did I mention His grace??? 

We don't need to do God's job for Him. We don't have to coerce people into following the rules. We can let God the Holy Spirit do what He does best, and we just enjoy His love and revel in His grace. 

Trusting Him is possible only when we believe that God is for us. Listen to the words of Paul, "If God be for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8) 

That's true living. That's an exciting adventure! This kind of living is not based on whether we follow a rule-book or check off our little daily tick-boxes of 'religious stuff I gotta do today to be blessed by God.' Let's be free from that kind of formula-based living and move to a lifestyle that is based on trusting His heart for us - His heart of love. For you. For me. For Aunt Sue. For Uncle Robert. For those neighbors who need Him so desperately. That is trust-based living. That's living by faith..

That's living.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

SON shine

"Every good gift and every perfect (free, large, full) gift comes from above, from the Father of all [that gives] light, in [the shining of] Whom there can be no variation [rising or setting] or shadow [cast by His] turning (as in an eclipse)." James 1: 17 (Amplified)

I'm often heard saying (especially on a sunny day), "I'm SO solar-powered." What I mean is that the feeling of the sunshine beaming down on me does something that touches a peace-o-meter in me. It's a reminder that life can be good, that things can go right, and that there is joy in the little things. 

I said that earlier today (obviously because it is - or was - a sunny day!) and someone asked if I also meant that I was powered by the SON. I laughed - because I am - although that's not how I meant it. But the comment got me to thinking about how everything I am, everything I have comes from Him. 

I even looked up some information on the Internet about solar power because I wanted to learn more about how it works, just for curiosity's sake. And I found out something rather interesting about solar power. The author of one science site said that every form of energy that we use comes from the sun. Every. single. one. The sun makes things grow - the process of photosynthesis (plants making their own food out of sunlight) stores energy in their cells - which can be released later on (for example, by burning wood). Of course the long-term - or second-hand - release of the sun's energy comes from previously living things that have been under pressure for many thousands of years - hence, coal, oil, and natural gas.) And finally, the sun evaporates water, which falls down from the sky and we collect that water behind dams and use the energy from it to make electricity.

And then there's the usual way we think of solar energy - harnessing the radiation from the sun to charge batteries for use in whatever we decide - from calculators to (eventually) cars! 

The thought that struck me was that everything ... not just fuel ... could be traced back to the sun. As a matter of fact, if the sun were suddenly to disappear, all life on earth would cease in a matter of minutes. Yet we blithely go on our way and rarely even think about how much we depend on that warmth and that light every moment of every day. 

Photo "Earth And Sunset" courtesy
of Idea go at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
We don't have to worry whether we "have the power of the sun" to use. It's there; it's all around us! We just walk in it. There's nothing complicated about it, at least not in the everyday. We don't think about the sun when we turn on a light switch - we just use it. It's there. We complain about the rain, but the sun is still there, warming and giving life and light to Earth.

Just so, when the SON has set us free, He takes up residence in the center of our being. Our whole world revolves around Him, whether we are aware of it all the time or not! His resources are ours to use; they are at our fingertips. Because of His grace and forgiveness, we are free to live, to love, to enjoy our lives, to reach out to those who need help - all because He is shining in us. Without that, we would be living in death ... period. There is nothing that we can boast about in what He has done for and in us. Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from Him. Including salvation. Including the faith to believe in what He has already provided. Including the mercy and wisdom He shows equally in whatever He allows to come into our lives. And so much more. Every moment of every day, the Son-beams come down. His grace and forgiveness are all around us. There is no eclipse. There is no shadow. There is only Him.

He is the source. 
He is the centre. 
He is everything.

Monday, September 15, 2014

SO shine

There is a quote that is usually ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi - "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." 

According to scholars, he never actually said it. However, the sentiment is valid. "Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven." (Matt. 5:15-16)

These are the words of Jesus, and often they are used to justify the dubious practice of "witnessing." All I will say about this practice is that the word "witness" in the New Testament is always used as a NOUN and never as a VERB. In other words, a PERSON can BE a witness to something that he or she has seen. And all that person does (and only when asked) is describe what he or she saw. 

But other than that, I'm not going there today. Today I am meditating about the actual words Jesus spoke, especially in verse 16 of Matthew 5. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven." 

LET it shine. Don't MAKE it shine. There is nothing that you can do to MAKE your light shine; it will do so, whether it is under that bushel or not!! Putting it under a bushel - as Jesus implied - just defeats the whole purpose of having a lit candle in the first place. (The bushel basket will let in air; the candle will not go out. But why would you bother covering it up?)  The power of the Light is not yours anyway; it is HIS. It is His light inside of you - and without that Light there would be darkness. Can you comprehend how great that darkness would be, were He not within to brighten your life? Think ... think hard ... about how He reached into your darkness and lit your powerless candle with His unquenchable flame. Can you not see the magnitude of that? 


Let YOUR light shine. It will do no good to tell a story you have not experienced. It will do you no good to rest on the laurels of your parents, or your pastor, or your children. God is a personal God; He desires relationship with us one-on-one. If it is not personal, it is not real to you - then you've not "gotten" it. 

Photo "Candle" courtesy of
phanlop88 at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
And finally, my key point. Let your light SO shine. 

Two meanings come from this little word "so." The first is "In the same way." Jesus is saying that we need to take off the restraints, the bushels in our lives, and give our faith in Him the place of honour it deserves - on a candlestick. This doesn't mean that we have to get out there and pound the pavement with gospel tracts and such. Far from it!! He's just been talking about being real - LETTING our light shine. Christian catch phrases and holy-isms put the bushel back on ... and the world can't see the real Light inside. It's there, but it's all crudded up and covered over with a bunch of religious talk and (let's admit it) guilt trips and fearmongering. How many people have been turned off by that! No, Jesus was talking about removing the barriers to people seeing the real us - the us that we are with Him, and without all the trappings and hangups. 

If we are happy, let's be happy with Jesus! if we are sad, let's be sad ... with Jesus by our side! If we are afraid, there is no shame in it; let's remember Jesus is with us and trust Him! 

And secondly, there is another meaning to that little word, "so." It also means "SO MUCH." There is nothing that we can do to make the flame bigger in our lives; God is the one who put it there. It in reality is a blazing inferno of His love for us! Might I suggest that part of "letting" our light shine is by being affected by the flame, by being consumed by His love for us. 

If we are living holy lives out of terror that He will be displeased, citing "Be holy, for I am holy," (1 Pet. 1:16) then we have totally missed the point!!  The point is that because He lives within us, because He has loved us and loves us now and into eternity with so great a love that He would give His only Son to make us His treasure (c.f. 1 John 3:1), that love moves us to rejoice in such gratitude that we CAN'T HELP but live that pure life, the candle WILL burn bright and clear. It will happen automatically!  

Using another analogy that Jesus used in John 15, that of the vine and the branches, we don't strain and grunt and groan trying to make fruit happen in our lives (we'll talk about what that fruit is another time). We just enjoy the Vine. We gain our nutrients from Him, let our life revolve around Him. Not in some creepy way that leaves people scratching their heads and saying, "What in the world is that person talking about...?" but in a way that realizes how deeply He loves us and just loves Him back. We won't need to concern ourselves with whether "they" are getting the message. They will get it. And they'll ask us about it. They'll want to know. If it's real, they'll want to know.

Plain and simple - back to the candle analogy - the more we realize how deep His love is for us personally, the more our "SO" will "GROW." We need not worry about overestimating His love and care for us. There is no way that can happen; "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared..." (1 Cor. 2:9). 

He LOVES us. He saves 'to the uttermost' (Heb 7:25). 

That'll fuel your fire. SO shine!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reinventing the Wheel

Today before church, a dear brother in the Lord hugged me and said (imitating Louis Armstrong's raspy voice) in my ear, "Ain't nobody love me like my Jesus love me." 

My heart leaped. That's what I've been meditating on for the past month: the love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of God that is mine through Jesus. I've been mulling over in my heart the fact that because of Jesus and His great sacrifice for me and for you and for every person that has lived or ever will live, and through the faith that He gave to believe in that sacrifice as my only way to a relationship with God, ALL of my sins - past, present and future - for all time, are ALREADY forgiven. That He sees me as pure and clean before Him because of what Jesus has already done! That the power of sin was broken on that cross, and the power of death was broken in that tomb. That I don't have to live by a set of restrictions and rules, but just gaze fully on Him, be enthralled with Him, and He will live His life out through me automatically! 

I have been noticing, therefore, that a lot of what we say in the church is a message for those who are NOT believers. The nouns and adjectives we use : sinners, wholly depraved, unclean, impure, need to be cleansed, need to repent and turn to God... all pertain to the unregenerate heart. 

Unregenerate. Not made alive. Pre-salvation. 

The problem is, as Christians living in an unregenerate world, we still feel the weight of sin plaguing us, we still feel unworthy, and somehow it transfers onto us. We get the idea that "we're in the Light now so we had better mind our p's and q's." Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Paul called this kind of "Jesus-and" thinking "falling from grace." (See Galatians 5:4 - "Christ has become of no use to you, you who are seeking to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace.") 

It's like trying to reinvent the wheel. (Or like trying to build a brand new car from the raw materials of iron ore and sand to make the glass in the windows .... when there is a perfectly good, functioning car in the driveway!) Jesus IS the wheel, beloved. The work has already been done!! He said, "It is finished!" and it was so. There is nothing any less complicated than that. 

Photo "Wedding Day Thoughts" by
Timeless Photography at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
The enemy has deceived the church for so long, bound her up, and made her doubt her position in Jesus Christ. He's driven it home with suggesting (sometimes successfully) unbiblical practices like self-flagellation (that's when people used to whip themselves to purge their own sins or do penance.) Now before you get all superior and tell me that we don't do that anymore, I say YES WE DO. We beat ourselves up all the time!! And the only one rubbing his hands in glee at all this is the devil. He's deceived us ... and this is how: he's warped the glorious truth of the Good News into something about duty and obligation and guilt. It was never intended to be so, dear sisters and brothers. It was meant to be about love and forgiveness and grace ... about gratitude and worship and freedom

He's twisted the amazing grace of God into something that must be accessed every time a Christian feels "far from God." He's hoodwinked us into believing that if we don't "feel" right with Him, then it must be us who moved and we need to ASK His forgiveness, some would say even to BEG for it. The truth is that He's already forgiven us, and has declared us as righteous as God!! ("He has made Him (who knew no sin) to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." - 2 Cor. 5:21). We who belong to Jesus are clothed in righteousness, dressed in white like a bride. We are indeed "new creations." (vs. 17). Made anew. Regenerated.

The truth is that if we have accepted by faith Jesus' sacrifice for us as our only way for a relationship with God, (through the faith that God Himself provides for us and because God has taken the initiative and drawn us to Himself) God's grace is ALL AROUND us, permeating every part of our existence, as much a part of us as the air we breathe. 

What kind of relationship would a bride have with her groom if she were to say to him on their wedding day, "Just give me the rules and I'll follow them because I don't want you to ever leave me." NO! The groom loves his bride, loves her so deeply that he would die for her. (And Jesus DID, by the way!) In the face of that kind of love, there is no need for rules. Love begets love - fear is gone and freedom has taken its place. There is no desire to look elsewhere; there is no thought of abandonment. 

And that is our relationship with Jesus our bridegroom. Unconditional, passionate, lavish love - far more and far greater than we could ever imagine. 

Why would we go back to a rulebook when we have Him?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

First Things First

It's really neat when God shows me something new, something I never saw before or never realized the depth He's just revealed of something I already knew. At such times, I can tend to go on a "high" and talk of little else, and then start opening my mind to new possibilities. 

That's all well and good, but there is a danger. 

Put another way, there's a lot about the church that is used bath water. It's served its purpose in the past, perhaps gotten rid of some sludge that hung on from years gone by or previous eras. 

But in throwing it out, I need to take care and be sure not to throw out the Baby too. 

The Gospel is the Good News because and only because we are absolutely incapable of getting to Heaven on our own. If it were up to us, we would all - repeat ALL - go to The Other Place. God is holy, perfect and just, and the Bible tells us many times that nothing and no one sinful can be in His presence. In one place, it even says that God is angry with the wicked every day. Make no mistake, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The wrath of God is ... unspeakably white-hot and will one day destroy the world. If there is no room in your or my theology for that, then we have forgotten just how hopeless was our case before Jesus came.

The whole reason why Jesus came and died was to be our wrath-taker. That's what the word "propitiation" means! (See 1 John 2:2 - "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, but not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.") 

The substitutionary death of Jesus for us is all throughout the Bible - Old and New Testaments. It's been there ever since before Genesis 3:15. (Don't believe me? God said to Adam in Genesis 2:17, "In the day you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die.") It also is alluded to in Revelation 21:5 when there is a new heaven and a new earth without the stain of sin. 

There's a verse we kind of gloss over when we read the Old Testament prophecy about Jesus the suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). It's verse 10: "Yet, it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand." Basically this is saying that it was God's will to sacrifice Jesus, to pour out all His wrath on the only One whose soul would survive it. It talks about the purpose for all of that - the offering for sin was on our behalf because it made us part of His family again, "His seed."

It's the only way Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection makes sense. If not for us, if not for our total depravity and our total inability to meet His standard of perfection (which we lost in the Garden) then why did Jesus have to die? Again, check out Hebrews 12:2 ... "...looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising [its] shame, and who is now seated at the right hand [the place of favour] of God." 

Jesus didn't die for some esoteric principle. He died for PEOPLE. He died so that PEOPLE would have an opportunity to say YES to God through Him, to enter a family relationship. THIS was "the joy that was set before Him." 

Yes, God is loving, passionately so! Yes, His grace abounds to us - saving us to the uttermost! (Heb. 7:25) What glorious truths! 

But let us remember that this love and grace was only able to be released toward us through the death of Jesus for us. It was the only way, God's plan from the beginning. You want verses? There are many. Here is a sampling: "In Him we have redemption [we are bought back] through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us..." (Eph. 1:7,8) "But God commended (demonstrated) His love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) "For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God..." (1 Pet. 3:18). "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Cor. 2:7-9)

Photo "Lightning" courtesy of
Suvro Datta at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
I included the last passage because it speaks of the fact that had the demonic forces and the rulers they controlled known what God's plan was, they would not have put the wheels in motion to get rid of Jesus. The last thing that they wanted was for their stronghold over mankind to be broken! 

So yes, the bathwater of the rituals and religious mindsets that have pervaded the church need to be washed away. But the Baby - !  

Let's never forget to keep the Main Thing the main thing. Jesus and His sacrificial death for us on the cross is the hingepin of the Gospel message. And it was necessary - SO necessary for us! Without it we would be lost, lost, LOST for all eternity! 

Can we grasp the horror of that? Can we understand even a fraction of what Gehenna is? Can we not remember how hopeless life without Jesus was? How futile? Can we begin to comprehend how deep the pit from which we were dug? the greatness of His wonderful grace that would do whatever it took to save us? even if it meant His own life? Can we realize the reality of what Jesus meant when He said, "You shall know the Truth [I am the way, the truth, and the life...] and the Truth shall make [not set, but completely create] you free.."?

Oh dear Church, "Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker!" (Ps. 95:6). Let us put First things first, and respond in joy and gratitude to the One who made this great, ultimate sacrifice to redeem us.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Rethinking Reward

As I said in my last post, a young man's sermon got me to thinking about some things, specifically about whether we are good people and whether God is too loving to punish us.

I must say this to preface it all: WITHOUT JESUS humans are not good. Not even close!! And WITHOUT JESUS God will punish humans because He provided the Way and they have rejected it (even if they've put off the decision until "later.") Therefore, their sin has not been covered and they are lost. Though it will break His heart, He will punish those without Christ. He cannot do otherwise and remain holy and just. 

Now. Since most of my readers are Christians, let me tell you that the "lies" are actually "true." 

Because of Jesus, we ARE good people. "He [God] has made Him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21) "He chose us in Him [Jesus] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him." (Eph. 1:4) "Yet now has He reconciled you to Himself through the death of Christ in His physical body. As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault." (Col. 1:22). 

Because of Jesus, God will NOT punish us for our sin (past, present or future sin!) (See the above verses, as well as the following ones). Hear the words of Jesus Himself: "Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me [already] has eternal life, and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24)  "And this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes on Him, may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:20). "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, ... and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand. My Father, who gave them to Me, is greater than all, and no-one shall be able to pluck them out of My Father's hand." (John 10:27, 28) "Of those whom You have given Me (see Eph 1:4) I have lost none, except the son of perdition, [and only] that the Scriptures may be fulfilled." (John 17:12). 

But ... I hear you say ... what about heavenly rewards and stars in our crown and all that good stuff? 

If there's one thing I know with all my heart, it's that I don't know all that Heaven will be; nobody can fully describe its wonders. The beloved disciple John tried and was not able to ... and the apostle Paul saw such wonders that it wasn't permitted for him to speak them!! 

However, we do have a few clues about those rewards. 

A few things from the Scriptures come to mind. The first are all the parables Jesus told about what the Kingdom of Heaven was like. (Keep in mind that these are mere facets, viewpoints from different angles, and that understanding one doesn't necessarily give the full picture!) There is the parable of the labourers in the field that the master hired in the morning and throughout the day. This is the story that flies in the face of our human nature that thinks that we can "earn" anything from God. The reward is the same whether we have known Jesus all our lives or only a few seconds. Heaven is the place where God is, the place where we were created for. The ultimate reward is to be with Him where He is! That reward is the same. No doubt about that! We will know perfect peace, perfect happiness, perfect purpose in Heaven regardless of anything we do or don't do.

Another story Jesus told about Heaven and/or judgment rises in sharp contrast - the one about how many will say to Him "on that day" (the Day He's referring to is the Great White Throne judgment, which takes place after the 1,000-year reign and the last battle with the enemy of our souls, after He has cast the devil and His angels into the lake of fire!) ... they will say, "Lord, Lord..." And He will say, "Depart from Me; I never knew you." (Matt 7:21-23) Ah yes. Quite the somber sentence. 

I have talked about this one before. When Jesus says to these people, "I never knew you," it is a keen warning to those who would think that anything that they can DO is reason for admission to Heaven. They have missed the whole point of why Jesus came. It wasn't to give us power over demons, to heal the sick or to raise the dead. It was to make us His children, to lavish His love on us. Moreover, the "I never knew you" statement is also a clue as to what DOES matter - knowing Him, letting ourselves BE known by Him (there's that intimacy thing again...) If we don't GET this, we were never His in the first place. That's why Jesus said "never." I could talk at length about this, but I think that for now, it's enough to say what I've said.

And finally, to finish my talk about rewards, there's that passage in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. It talks about what has been called "the Judgment Seat of Christ" or what others have called "the Bema seat" - (bema meaning the platform that was used in Roman culture to examine a person's deeds or to put someone on trial.) 

Photo "Mason Hand Spreading Concrete"
courtesy of luckypic at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Here's what it says: "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus ChristNow if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw; each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." 

I bolded the first sentence because it is crucial to our understanding of what the important things are. What is important is the finished work of Jesus for us, and the importance of that for us, every single day. This is because any building that we do (and by saying "we do" I mean that HE does it through us, see Psalm 127:1) MUST be on that ... or it will all have been for nothing. 

I am assuming here that those reading this post will have already placed their entire trust on that foundation of "none but Jesus", because anything less won't withstand the test of God's purity...for "our God is a consuming fire." (Heb 12: 29)

Now I feel that I need to tell one of my famous (if slightly bizarre) stories. Our kids absolutely LOVED a certain cartoon show that was on television back in the 1990s. It was called "The Magic Schoolbus." They never missed an episode. (And therefore, neither did I.) Miss Frizzell and her class went on such adventures (field trips) in a schoolbus that was at times a rocket ship, a submarine shrunk to microscopic size, or whatever it needed to be to teach the lesson of the day. On one of the episodes, (Season 2, episode 8) they visit a "haunted" house which, of course, really isn't. [The show was on the topic of Sound. (Bear with me, there IS a point.)] One of the class members, Carlos, was building a musical instrument to enter into a instrument invention competition. But he was having trouble with the design. When he tried to play his invented instrument, the sound came out all "ploopy." 

Once Carlos learns what sound really is, he sees that putting all the streamers and decorations on his instrument (which he thought were "cool") has actually detracted from the sound it could have made. When he removes all his own stuff and lets the instrument be what it is, when it sings the song it was intended to sing, it sounds wonderful! 

In a sense, this is what the Bema seat does. Only ... it happens after we are in Heaven and we don't have the opportunity to get rid of all the fluff and stuff we think makes our Christian walk more "cool." So ... He does it for us. 

Many will think that their works will survive the fire ...and they / we will be surprised. What the Bema seat will do is to reveal what works Jesus did through us (gold, precious stones, silver) and which ones we did in our own strength (wood, hay and stubble.) It IN NO WAY will determine our eternal destiny. It will simply show us what will remain, and it will allow our instrument (our essence) to sing the way it was meant to. 

Many have talked about "losing rewards" and used this passage as a justification for that kind of thinking. However, I don't believe that's the point. If we are truly in love with Jesus, the rewards won't matter. (I'll touch on this part after I am done with the "so as by fire" stuff.)

So you want a picture of what "he himself will be saved, yet so as by fire" looks like? I can think of one, although it isn't original; it is only one person's (brilliant) imagination. So here, I need to cite a Paramount Pictures classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, by Lucasfilm Ltd. (1981). At the climax, the bad guys have the audacity to try to open the Ark of the Covenant, and Indiana Jones tells his girlfriend Marian, "Don't look Marian! No matter what, keep your eyes SHUT!" All around them the fire of God swirls. Here is the picture I mentioned. Focus not on the destruction (although in the movie, it is extremely. well. done.) Focus instead on the two people, tied back to back, with their eyes tightly shut, rescued by the skin of their teeth, "yet so as by fire." When the destruction ends and the blazing flame has returned to God, their enemies are gone and they are safe. Even the ropes that bound them together have been burned off their wrists - but they are untouched. And grateful. THAT is the burning - and the purpose - of the Bema seat.

Keep in mind that the fire spoken about in 1 Corinthians 3 will test everyone's work - but the foundation remains. Nothing can touch that. It is Rock solid. "He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor 5:21) This is not in question.

At the Bema or Judgment seat of Christ, the things we have done in the flesh (i.e., in our own human effort, or [God forbid] for the motivation of reward!) will disappear. Only what He did in us and through us will remain. These are the precious jewels and the gold and silver that quite possibly represent any reward that we might receive. And the Bible does say that there is a reward, though it doesn't say exactly what. If we stay with the standard reward scenario, we will receive a crown and perhaps the jewels that survive the fire will be used to decorate it. 

But it won't matter. It WON'T!! Look at an example of what eventually happens to crowns (and that is even IF this passage refers to us): «The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and worship Him that lives for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 'You, O Lord, are worthy to receive glory and honour and power, for You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are created.'» (Revelation 4:10-11) 

We won't WANT the reward. Jesus will be enough. He has always been enough and He always WILL be enough. Heaven IS His pure and holy presence for all eternity.

It is God who is ultimately glorified. We are left breathless, grateful, reward or no reward, realizing that only in Jesus are we able to stand in the presence of God at all. 

Yes, we press onward, and we aim for the prize. But the real prize (according to Paul) is knowing Him. (for more on that kind of knowing, see my previous post.)  Paul said, in his "forgetting those things which are behind" passage (Phil 3:13-14) "...I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:14) Just in case you were wondering, exactly how do I know that what is this call is, is knowing Jesus? Paul has just talked about it in the previous few verses... "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish [the KJV says DUNG] so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him..." (Phil 3:8-10)

Can you see it? Can you see how simple it is?

I close with a quote I often use from General William Booth, which he said just prior to his death. One of his commanders in the Salvation Army was by his bedside and tried to comfort him (or was it himself?) by saying, "Well, General Booth, you will soon be going on to receive your reward."  

At this statement, the old man gave him a piercing glare and said, "NO. I go NOT to receive a reward. I go ... to receive MERCY."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Yada yada yaDA...

Have you ever gone to church and watched everything going on and wondered to yourself, "Is this all there is?" 

I have. Sometimes those who have been in the church for a long time can get pretty blasé about the gospel. Yeah, Jesus died for my sins, yeah, the Spirit is in me, yeah Jesus is coming again, yeah, God loves me and has a plan for my life...

Yada yada yada. 

Sometimes it can seem like just words. Sometimes it seems like a total disconnect from reality, the reality of just living life in impossible situations with uncaring, unthinking people and in the face of constant inner pain. Sometimes - if we're rigorously honest with ourselves - we wonder if it's all worth it. Struggling every single minute to keep our heads above water, constantly fighting to "keep the faith" when all around us, the walls are closing in. 

At times like that, it just seems so irrelevant, so unlike anything we are actually going through. And so, in those times we might actually put on that happy face and pretend like everything is great - but we're dying inside and there is a part of us, deep down, that says, "Suuuure. Yada yada yada. Been there, done that, guess it must work for those folks who have a charmed life or something but it sure doesn't seem real to me." 

I listened to a sermon this morning ... probably the best one I've heard in quite a long time ... and that was only PARTLY because it was super short! The young man who spoke said that there are two really super-important statements that people believe (all people, including Christians) which are not true - and that this is quite likely "the lie" that people will believe in the end times: 

1.   I am a good person. (More on this later). 
2.   God is too loving and too caring to punish me. 

I can see a lot of folks nodding right now. Good stuff, you say.

I went to see the man who preached because something he said in passing kind of stuck with me. It was that Christians tend to believe the second more than the first, and then they take carte blanche and go live like - well - like hell. 

I do know people who live that way; that's not my point in this post. (I'll probably get to this in another one.  But later.) 

What I shared with him is that we Christians might not admit to thinking that we are "good people" (again, another topic for another time) but far too many of us Christians believe that once Jesus saves us, it's up to us to do the rest of it on our own, so we try and try and try again. And we fail. Every. Time.

As a matter of fact, the harder we try, the more likely we are to fail. It just isn't in us. There is no possible way that human effort (which is death) can accomplish something spiritual (which is life).

"We CAN'T," I told him. "There is no possible way for anyone to live the way God intended by trying. But we still try anyway." He nodded ... and agreed with me.

We try, over and over and over. And we fail. And we get discouraged, depressed, despairing. Jaded. Yada, yada, yada. 

Photo "Young Couple Standing"
by photostock at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
But did you know that "yada" is a Hebrew word? It's a verb, and it's pronounced Yah-DAW and it means "to know intimately." In fact, about ten times in the Old Testament it is used to describe intimate relations (to "know" someone in the "Biblical sense," as the saying goes). 

It is the word that Paul used when he expressed his heart's desire, "I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but dung, for the excellency of KNOWING Him who loved me and gave Himself for me ... That I may KNOW Him, and the power of His resurrection..." (Philippians 3:8-10)

Knowing someone in that way isn't about buying them expensive presents, or doing impressive feats, or working for that person. No, it's about time spent together. Not so we can "maintain the relationship" but because we want to spend time with the person. 

Just so with knowing Jesus. We grow in intimacy with Him as we spend more time with Him. Not asking for things, no prayer lists, no beating ourselves up because we forgot or were too tired ... just simply gazing at His face, looking into His heart, reading true, unconditional love there and being totally enraptured by Him. Why? because He loves us. He forgave us. He rescued us. He sees us as perfect - yes, perfect!! - because of His sacrifice. He holds us. He fills us. He empowers us. He is with us. He has gone before us. He knows the way ahead of us. He is above, below, around, and in us. And He loves us. Oh yeah, I guess I said that. But I'll say it again: HE LOVES US. Supremely. Unconditionally. Thoroughly. There is not a part of us that He doesn't love. Not one. 

That is transformational. It really is. Oh yaDA!! To KNOW Him!

Paul talked about this process to the Corinthian church. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into that same image from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18). 

Beholding. Not striving, not trying, not resolving. Just beholding. 
Can it be that simple?

Yes. Yes it can. 
The more I try, strive, and resolve to do better, the worse I fail. 

The more I simply focus on Jesus, every moment of every day, simply reveling in His love for me and His forgiveness, the easier and better my life is, the more free I am, and the more I intimately know Him. 

How cool is that!