Category Archives: 38. Balance

Balance (Sunday)—Hebrews 10:19-26

In our relationship with God, where is the balance between the “full assurance” of verse 22 and the “terrifying expectation of verse 27? Where is that line, that when I cross it, my destiny shifts from paradise to perdition? Through the centuries, verses 26-29 have rattled more than a few believers who sinned after their conversion. These verses have gnawed at my confidence as well.

The internal conversation can go something like this: “Oh no, I have sinned again! Am I now in that place where there no longer remains a sacrifice for my sins!” Another part of us responds: “But, I am born again aren’t I? And…didn’t I read somewhere there is a provision of cleansing if I confess my sins?” This schizophrenic conversation goes on within us, bouncing back and forth across this imaginary line, taking us on a roller coaster ride that, no doubt, delights Satan to no end.

Most of us don’t go all the way from full assurance to terrifying expectation. We are not that great of sinners. Most of us consider ourselves to be misdemeanor-level sinners. Consequently, we have misdemeanor level repentance and, not surprisingly, lukewarm gratitude and our ride goes from moderate assurance to moderate terror.

They show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:15-16).

From here, some of us convince ourselves, these defiled, guilt-driven consciences we are lugging around, equate to brokenness—something we know the Lord will not despise (Psalm 51).  We can come to see ourselves as those with deep, irreparable flaws in our makeup—which is only partly true. This, and variations of this confession, can become the centerpiece of our belief system and the core value of our identity. In our flesh, we can develop a deeper veneration of our fallen natures than we have for our new resurrected ones. As to our sanctification: if it is done unto us according to our faith, shouldn’t we expect entanglement with sin? What else could we expect in our depravity?

How much guilt and shame energy powers religious activity done in Jesus’ name? The person yoked with this motivation may be confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior but they are leaning far more heavily on the savior than Lord part. They may think…

“With my depraved heart—with my track record—I am just fortunate to be God’s tolerated step-child. I just hope I am acceptable to Him. My life’s playing out just like Paul said it would in Romans 7:21-24.  I’m a prisoner (or victim) of the law of sin, which regularly proves just how fallen I am. This is precisely why I don’t do the things I know are right. I am a wretch. It’s just who I am. However, I am busy in the church, serving the Lord. This provides me with some security (a little insurance never hurts!) My labors serve as an ointment for my uneasy conscience.”

The church doesn’t seem to be at risk of losing this source of cheap labor any time soon. Religious consciences cannot afford to let go of their guilt and shame-driven works and simply rest. What would happen to these consciences when the salve is no longer applied? Dread and uncertainty with God will move them over the line, toward moderate concern of judgment.

Carefully read verses 19-25. These words assure us that the author’s intent was not to frighten us into right behavior with the fear of hell. Our passage is unnerving to the alternating religious conscience—one that accuses one moment and defends the next (Roman 2:15). The NASB refers to those who “go on sinning” as the ones who should legitimately fear. The Message describes this same group as those who “give up and turn their backs on what they’ve learned, all they’ve been given and all that they now know.” The party that should fear is the one who has totally hardened their heart toward God and chosen a life of unapologetic, premeditated sin. So, if we truly know Christ as our Savior and our consciences are still alternating and uneasy, what are we to do?

We can begin by settling some things once and for all. The only remedy for the defiled conscience was effected at the cross. “It is finished.” Then, we can enter into the Holy place. The door to that sacred place has been removed for God’s children. There no longer remains a line to cross where sudden judgment may befall us. Even if it did exist, it is redundant because His true children are not tempted to go out and see how much they can get away with before they tilt the scale. True children instinctively shun sin and are disturbed by it. The new nature has a disposition compatible with righteousness and can flourish when it is encouraged with grace. Alternately, the flesh flourishes when dealt with by the Law.

If we are Christian captives of besetting sins, or just joyless souls who are working where they should be resting, let’s forge a battle plan. When we sin, let’s not think of it as a misdemeanor. Let’s simply acknowledge that our sin, however small it seems, necessitated Jesus’ death on a cross. Let’s confess our sins. These include the sins of bitterness, judgments, angry words, unforgiveness, and gossip. Tragically, over time, we learn to hide and excuse these sins. Consequently, our hearts, even as believers, can become hardened.

Let’s also elevate our understanding of our new identity. We are in Christ—the hope of glory. In the long run we will be more victorious over our sin by agreeing with God on this matter. We must confess that we are new creations. We must stop casting ourselves as victims of our sinful natures. If our identities are driven by the flesh we are living in opposition to God. Do you believe the battles Paul fought were regularly won by his flesh while the Spirit of the resurrected Christ was in him. I don’t think so.

Father, help us to find those with whom we can assemble—who are able, by way of their example, to demonstrate what sincere hearts living in full assurance look like. Help us to build and sustain growing communities of grace saturated men and women who are innovators in encouragement. Together, we will hold fast our confession of hope without wavering, for You who promised are faithful. We refuse to throw away our confidence, which is going to have a tremendous reward on that Great Day. Your love has cast out fear, enabling our full assurance of faith, fueling our anticipation of Your blessed return.

 

 

Balance (Saturday)—Luke 10:38-42

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42)

How is Jesus completing his work on earth? The church has answered this question: “We will send more people to seminary—so more churches can be established, so that more sermons can be peached, more bible studies can be held, more programs can be sponsored, more missionaries can be sent, more crusades can be sponsored and more books can be written.” My interpretation of this answer is, “We will add more gears to the existing machine and better lubricate the ones already whirling.” Let’s call this “Plan a.” But, let’s also explore an overlooked possibility for furthering the kingdom of God: “Now as they traveled along they entered a village (a network of people) and met someone who opened their home to them.”

I have often wondered how the early church grew so rapidly without a Bible, without any how-to-be-better books, and zero 501(c)(3)’s. They didn’t have an agreed upon mission statement. They didn’t have large buildings where they could assemble. They didn’t have the modern means of transportation and communication we consider essential to the completion of Christ’s work on earth. So, what was it the early church had that God used so dramatically in the beginning?

Let’s take inventory. In our passage, we only have Jesus, His friends and a home, complete with a gracious host. What Jesus found in that house is what He found in every house He entered—people separated from God by sin, busily trying to make life work. He found people comparing themselves to each other. He found people tormenting themselves and everyone around them with their protests against the perceived injustice of their circumstance. One way people try and make life work is by striving to arrange their circumstances (or society’s—if they are ambitious) to meet their own standards of fairness. We say, “A little fairness—that’s not too much to ask is it!”

 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.

Martha’s question is really a complaint and an indictment against Jesus. This is rich isn’t it? “Jesus, don’t You care?” I can imagine this scene. I see Jesus, fully understanding of the sin-born predicament of Martha’s heart, lovingly saying (with his hands on her shoulders, looking into her eyes), “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things.” Martha does not walk away in a huff. This penetrating observation stung, but at another level, Martha was drawing security from these hands, which were the most loving thing that had ever touched her, those eyes that said so much. She drew rest from this man who knew her heart’s disfigurement yet accepted her fully as his personal friend.

It may have also stung Martha that Jesus used her sister, who was the person she had (incorrectly) sighted as the source of her misery, as the reference point for her repentance. Jesus was saying, “Martha, your sister is not your problem, she is your example.”

Mary’s example is straightforward. She had disengaged herself from the busyness around her and fully devoted her attentions to Jesus. This is what Jesus wanted Martha (and us) to understand. Mary’s example may also contribute to our understanding of the early church’s successes. Jesus put it like this: “Martha, take a good long look at your sister. While you are thinking that Mary is not carrying her load, I am telling you that she has chosen the only necessary load. Mary has simply chosen Me. Mary is yoked with me.”

God has done much with “Plan a,” but let’s not overlook the plan our passage proposes which can involve you and me, right now. Let’s call this “Plan A”—we have the same things available to us—right now—that were in this story. Perhaps it is this scene and the millions like it, occurring wherever two or more had gathered in Jesus’ name, sharing their stories, which explains the explosive growth we see in the New Testament. I suspect this was the Original Plan A.

I think Martha left that encounter with Jesus as a woman with a transformed heart—one armed with a story about the loving correction, the goodness and the power of God. She, along with her friends, who had their own stories, engaged their friends and neighbors as “they were traveling along”—simply living out their lives in their natural contexts.

Father, raise up those who will sit at Your feet and listen. Confront us where we are busy and distracted. Set us free from our comparison-born bitternesses. Release us into this world with fresh stories of your intimate involvement in our hearts. Help us to courageously choose Jesus—our one essential thing. May we identify and nurture your life in us and in those nearest us. Amen.

 Related Reading: An Army of Ordinary People is a book by Felicity Dale, giving modern day accounts of believers who are executing Plan A. Her book is an account of the fruit being produced within the organic networks of laypersons. She is documenting a metamorphosis: the caterpillar is being transformed into a butterfly; the Body of Christ is breaking out of her old wineskin of attending church into her new one of being the Church. It is a sight to behold!

 

 

Balance (Friday)—Isaiah 55:1-13

I recall trying to start a conversation about Jesus with a guy doing graduate work at Oklahoma State University. I had just graduated in CMT (Construction Management Technology); I’m pretty sure this guy was majoring in CIM (Crushing Inferior Minds). I was prepared to offer him an honorary doctorate by the time he was done with me. That was one of those days when I was pretty sure the Great Commission was for the original twelve exclusively! It was as if my would-be-convert had said, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth (thou worm), so art my thoughts higher than yours. And, in my heart, I offered the benediction: “Amen sir, it is as you say!” Isn’t that a horrible feeling, knowing your thoughts are inferior?

How do you feel when the scriptures point out the relative impotence of your intelligence? Isaiah adds that God’s ways are also in the way-higher-than-ours category. Is this less offensive coming from God? Or more? And, where do offenses with God lead us? One group just walks away from God’s ways and thoughts as agnostics or atheists. The other, which is more rare, just faces off with God as an antagonist.

Both have seen enough reality (in their assessment) to refute any possibility that an all-powerful, allknowing, all-loving God is involved either directly or indirectly in the affairs of man. The offense often takes this shape, “No, there is way too much evil in the world for these things to all be true. Therefore I will believe in nothing.” It is an interesting phenomenon that life typically plays out for them just as they suspected it would—free of any noticeable interventions by God.

 May it be done unto them according their faith. (Matthew 9:29)

C.S. Lewis used the term “materialist to describe this crowd—those limiting their reality to only that which can be observed and quantified.

So much for atheists and agnostics. What about Christians? Are we offended by the notion of our smallness next to His vastness? Can Christians be materialists in the C.S. Lewis-sense of the word, where we insist on seeing before we will believe? What would that look like? I believe many of us Christians are materialists and that our offenses are often betrayed by our questions.

A fascinating Bible chapter regarding questions is the first chapter of Luke. Zacharias has not seen adequate proof of God’s faithfulness. He and Elizabeth had been praying all their married lives for the child who never came. When God finally answers their prayers, he demonstrates that he is a materialist by the spirit of the question he asked Gabriel: “How shall I know for certain?”

The words that formed the question sounded innocent enough, but the spirit of the question was not. In the letter of it, Zacharias’ question was no different than Mary’s “How shall this be, since I am a virgin?” Perhaps there is some advantage to youth. Maybe she had not yet accumulated enough evidence against God’s faithfulness to indict him as absent in the affairs of men. Mary’s was a question born in awe and wonder. Gabriel’s response leads to me to think Zachariah’s question was a thinly veiled indictment. In Mary, there was a precious and innocent faith that simply agreed with God: “For nothing will be impossible with God… Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

A few years ago, God arranged the circumstances of my life such that I could see my own Zacharias heart. I was filled with questions that were just lightly disguised complaints. My disgruntlement was always just below the surface, fueling a peculiar zeal and passion which actually passed as elder-quality spirituality. I eventually discovered a root of bitterness, which had been darkening my outlook.

While my burden as a Christ follower should have been light, mine had become unbearably heavy. Yet, I was toting it around with pride, as my cross to bear. My definition of faith at that time was: trusting that God is good in the presence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Is this the faith we are told pleases God? I don’t think so. I had some friends operating with a different understanding of faith. Their definition was: trusting that God is good all the time. Consequently they were always looking for and regularly finding sufficient evidence to support their definition. For this group as well—it seemed it was “being done unto them according to their faith.” This makes sense because… “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Since dealing with my bitter root, I have discovered that God is in a better mood than I thought. I am no longer reading books like: Why God Does Bad Things to Good People (imaginary title) or Wilderness Spirituality (real title). I’m not stumbling as badly when I find scriptures that don’t make sense. There is no question that the light in me is of a far better quality today. It is like viewing life through a Father filter as opposed to a Stepfather filter. Consequently, faith is not nearly so difficult.

I no longer see agnostics, atheists, or even Christian materialists, such as myself, as beyond God’s reach. We are all thirsting at some level. However, we have much relabeling and refiling to do. Our skewed interpretations of life have created files with labels like, The God Who Is Not or The God Who Is Indifferent. Mankind’s misconceptions of God are myriad, but, for all men, I believe there is a file labeled, Oh, But How I Wish It Were True. I believe these hearts are well within the reach of the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus can win back the most fractured and deceived hearts. Listen…

 Ho! Every one who thirsts (asking honest questions), come to the waters; and you who have no money (i.e.; no discernible faith-currency), come, buy and eat… Incline your ear to me and come to Me. Listen that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you. (from Isaiah 55:1-3)

Father, may You receive the reward of your suffering—the return of us prodigals as well as us elder brothers. Thank you for your kindness and long suffering toward us. Root out the things that alienate us from your affections. Amen.

 

Balance (Thursday)—Matthew 6:25-34

 No one can serve both God and wealth. (Luke 16:13)

Jesus is just telling it like it is: Gravity pulls at 9.8 m/s² —and—“No one can serve both God and wealth.” It’s a fundamental law of the unseen kingdom: our hearts were constructed to give treasure-level value to one thing or the other. The economies of God’s kingdom and our trust-wired hearts give us no choices other than Jesus or this material world. This is a big deal since allegiance to things other than Jesus is idolatry. God has said it early and often: “They shall have no other gods before Me.”

 The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)

Jesus teaches that what we trust in is what we are worshipping. What we treasure determines how we perceive reality. He is telling us emphatically how to watch over our hearts and avoid idolatry: “Don’t be anxious.

Is He saying we worship him by managing our emotions? Are worshippers just good emotions-managers? Jesus means much more than this. He instructs his beloved children how to steward their trust-wired hearts. No, we can’t choose how we feel, but we can choose what we think. Emotions will eventually follow thinking. Have you ever thought of thinking as worship? Thinking is the arena where we steward our hearts. This is why Paul put the ball in our court: “Renew your minds.”

Life, as Jesus defines it, is not associated with what we eat or wear. If we are preoccupied with external material things, Jesus tells us we are missing eternal things. He didn’t denounce material things as evil. He denounced inordinate heart-level devotion to them.

Jesus explicitly promises to cover our material needs if we will accept life as he defines it. To illustrate lifehe uses birds of the airlilies of the field and the grass in the meadow, things inherently beautiful and vibrant, which never ask, “Where have I come from? How do I look? How will I survive?” To receive life, we must become as the sheep of His pasture, creatures radically dependent on Him alone. Here is the disentanglement clause of the New Covenant: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

He promises that if (there’s that “if” word again!)—if we do this, our external needs will be met. Granted, the kingdom is a big topic; however, we may know more about it than we think. We know that seeking righteousness can only be accomplished by receiving it as a gift. We can also infer something about the kingdom from Jesus’ statement, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow.” The kingdom of God is not just in the sweet by and by. The kingdom of God is the now-realm of Christ’s rule. The grace God offers us for abundant life is always available in this kingdom moment.

Even the chosen must choose life. To taste Christ’s abundant life requires that we obey His commands, which He contends are not burdensome. Yet, we do feel burdened—so much so, that we can even feel like victims. We must not allow our anxieties to lead us into victimhood. We must take responsibility for our thoughts. Thinking is a domain God has entrusted to us. It is here in our hearts and minds where we steward truth.

Through Paul, Jesus instructs us to renew this domain (aka; repentance). The Lord disentangles us from this world as we obey his commands. As we do, our worldly notions will be displaced by eternal realities. Our obedience will eventuate in radical dependency on Jesus. Just as the hymn predicts, the things of earth will grow strangely dim.

Anxiety will be undercut as our hearts discover Jesus as our treasure. Even for those who feel as though they may explode any moment, Jesus says, Trust in Me. I promise I will never leave nor forsake you.

Father, succeed in awakening the abundant life of Christ in us. May your kingdom without end, which is in us even now, noticeably expand. Where darkness remains, expose us and deliver us. Take vengeance on our enemy. Deliver us from every entangling lie. May the light within us grow progressively bright until that day when all will see the radiance of Your glory. Amen.

 

Balance (Wednesday)—Isaiah 30:15

For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, 

“In repentance and rest you will be saved, 

In quietness and trust is your strength.” 

But you were not willing. (Isaiah 30:15)

Israel makes an allegiance with Egypt, which Isaiah advised against. Isaiah voices God’s displeasure and, in the process, reveals things about God (who is now our Father). The reality that God is my Father, alters how I read the Old Testament. It also provokes my imagination: if Isaiah were a contemporary author, how would he title his book? Perhaps it would be How Then Shall We Be Saved? Here is a chapter-by-chapter review of Isaiah’s bestseller.

 Part I—Not Like This

Chapter 1: Making Plans Without God

Planning without God has exposed Israel as false sons. These rebellious children compound their misery by making and executing their own independent plans. To reinforce their delusion, they pressure God’s spokesmen to only speak to them pleasant words, not true words that would reflect God’s holy nature. The holiness of God is the thing—above all things—they do not want to hear about. (Israel was not unique. Check out II Timothy 4:3-4).

Chapter 2: If You Persist

In issuing God’s fair warning, Isaiah refers us to a clay jar. This jar might be useful in holding water, but it is going to be broken. It is not going to be merely cracked. It is going to be reduced to shards—crushed suddenly into unrecognizable powder. God also alludes to a sense of paranoia, which overtakes those unwilling to listen. Consequently they become isolated, easy prey.

Chapters 3: Accounts

These chapters will detail in one story after another how this has been a chronic pattern—always yielding the same disastrous consequence for Israel. The author further highlights the attributes of God’s holiness and justice.

 Part II—Like This

Chapter 1: God’s Nature

This chapter is a review of God’s attributes, focusing on his holiness, his justice, and his compassion.

Chapter 2: God’s Intentions

Isaiah gives us a peek into God’s heart. He shows us that while being holy and just, God simultaneously longs to be gracious. God is waiting patiently to reveal His compassion.

Chapter 3: How God Has Planned Our Salvation

This is the Old Testament—the details are still sparse at this stage of God’s self-disclosure, but the spirit is clear. Put succinctly, “in repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.” In the absence of intellectually satisfying detail, the author whets our spirit with these words: “How blessed are all those who long for Him.”

Chapter 4: If You Obey

This chapter details the myriad blessings for those with ears to hear. For them, it will include a day of renouncing dependencies on things other than God. Consequently, the water will be turned on again and even the earth’s longing and thirst for moisture will be satisfied. With God, even the broken clay jar (which He personally crushed) will be repaired to carry water once again. Unbelievably bright days are ahead. The Lord’s wrath will be turned away from his own people and redirected, full bore, onto those who dealt treacherously with his own true children.

Epilogue

Isaiah boils it all down. Since his eviction from the Garden, man, in his fallen condition, tries to save himself. He attempts to save himself from his guilt with offerings of good works. He attempts to save himself from his insecurity through his independence. He insists on trusting his own initiative and ingenuity. Mankind compulsively makes alliances with the world. And, even though he reaps the whirlwind, he fails to understand God’s simple plan: Our alliances must be made exclusively with Him, or we will forgo his intended blessing.

The author confidently asserts his status as seer-in-good-standing. While it is painful to him, Isaiah unapologetically acknowledges that much of his writing is dark and leaves his readers hanging. However, knowing his message is but a prelude, he practically begs his readers to find the thread of hope in his words. He gives us a clue as to where we should look—pay heed to your longing. In verse 15, he tells us where and how longing will gain its traction: “In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.”

He tells his readers to stay tuned, intimating that longing will be an ongoing theme, one that will be addressed by future authors, writing in the same spirit.

Father, please cause us to be those who long. Awaken us to the immeasurable privilege we have as your true sons and daughters. May profound gratitude be our daily response as the beneficiaries of a New Covenant. Let astonishment and wonder grip us as we consort with you as sons and friends. We rejoice in you Jesus—the consummation of all our longing. Amen.

 

Balance (Tuesday)—I Thessalonians 2:1-12

The identity of any community is shaped in no small part by key words and their definitions. In Christian communities, one of those key words appears in today’s passage. The word is “apostle.” For unity’s sake, we should work together on a common definition of this word.

Half my friends come from the charismatic tributaries of Christianity; the other half do not, and these two rivers do not communicate well. However, they do have a joint strategy for unity: maintaining distance. Unfortunately, the strategy presents a fractured picture of Jesus to the world.

Both camps confess the scriptures are inspired and authoritative, but charismatics tend to look to the Holy Spirit as a person with an active voice. This frightens non-Charismatics. They tend to see the Holy Spirit as the author and interpreter of scripture. The perceived mission of the Holy Spirit is like the continental divide within Christendom—the headwaters of two great rivers, flowing in opposite directions.

My Bible-only (or Bible-mostly) friends look to this passage as one that adds clarity to their understanding of the word “apostle.” Scripture informs them that apostles 1) suffered mistreatment 2) delivered the gospel amidst persecution 3) always leveraged character above (and as evidence of) title 4) lived and worked among the believers in order to model life 5) lived to see their charges walk in a manner worthy of God’s kingdom glory 6) were orientated to the flock as “mothers” and as “fathers,” tenderly and affectionately encouraging, exhorting, and imploring with the words of God until those words and their definitions were embedded in their hearts. This is not an exhaustive list of apostolic attributes, but it contributes to the past tense understanding of God’s Bible-only (or mostly) children.

The charismatic, kingdom now, side of our family has looked at the Greek definition of “apostle” and seen that it means “one who is sent away—an emissary.” An apostle, in this camp, can be any individual with proven gifts and specific callings who has been recognized and commissioned by a particular apostolic network.

The division created by the apostolic is not only between charismatics and non-charismatics. The apostolic, as it is known, can also cause division within independent charismatic assemblies—who, unfortunately, did not do the commissioning. The independent local assembly may be confused that some upstream-network commissions individual with titles who, biblically speaking, trump local elders in terms of authority. Unless the local assembly is collectively operating under the auspices of the commissioning network, tension is inevitable. Blessed is the leader who successfully manages this tension.

Our passage is using the word “apostle” as one commissioned within the original apostolic network. Apostles from this stream had authority, which was recognized by local assemblies. This authority was legitimized as they lived and worked along side others. “Apostle,” in its resurrected meaning, refers instead to missional apostles with unique tasks that do not necessarily carry governmental authority.

If you come across a contemporary apostle, don’t run away—just look to see if they’re “fatherly” or “motherly.” Determine if their lives are intertwined at an eye-to-eye level in the local community. If they are, perhaps they are apostles of the I Thessalonians 2, capital “a” variety. If the person simply lives out their specific calling and has been honored with the small “a” apostle designation, then honor is due them. They have proven themselves worthy of that title in the upstream-network where it was bestowed.

However, I could imagine, if an Apostle of the capital “a” variety were present they might suggest we go light on titles – especially one’s which have acquired extra-biblical definitions. Given how far we have been carried downstream, I believe they would suggest we work hard at understanding each other, because, in spite of our differences, we came from the same source and our streams will eventually flow into a vast common sea.

 For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:9)

Father, one day all the tributaries and streams will flow into a common ocean. There, we will know as we have been known. Until then may we be known to each other and to the world by our love. Call us anything you want, but please call up the legitimate fathers and the mothers who know how to raise children in the spirit and the word. Amen.

 

Balance (Monday) – Psalm 62:1-12

My soul waits in silence for God only;

From Him is my salvation.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:5-6)

A good friend who along with myself was a part of a men’s group that met faithfully for years commented, after reading one of my recent Blue Book installments, that he didn’t know I was in so much pain back when we were meeting. That set me to thinking. How could he have known?

I recall that time frame. I was intensely seeking the Lord and I was fairly aggressive in encouraging others around me to do the same. But, while it may have appeared I was riding a big wave, some undercurrents threatened to pull me under. It’s not likely my friend could have known because, except with God, I was pretty silent about it.

My soul waits in silence for God only; 

From Him is my salvation.

He only is my rock and my salvation, 

My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)

I really didn’t understand what God was doing anyway. It was at this time I had put verses 1 and 2 of this Psalm to memory. I recall, as I was walking around the YMCA track, a melody came to me, and by the second lap or so, I was singing a new song. That evening I found the guitar chords to go with it. I had made it mine.

In the 12 verses of this Psalm, the word “my” is used repeatedly. Twice, those verses are used like a chorus or a refrain from dark observations and warnings for men of base character.

There is really no 12 Step Guide for The Ways of God In The Heart of Man, but the Psalms do a superb job in that particular book’s absence. How does the Christian religion get translated into the personal relationship that it purports to offer? Is it just given to us, or do we have to make it ours? How has your personal relationship with God been formed?

I think the Psalmist answers those questions for us. Through the seasons of our lives, we are hit with things that shake us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I have not met anyone yet exempted from these things. There are some, who follow the Psalmist’s wise advise and make relationship out of religion by: “Trusting in Him at ALL times ” (especially those in which we think we may be pulled under) and “Pouring out our their hearts before Him” (being intentionally present with God and being emotionally honest with Him—and, if possible, a few trusted friends).

I believe we are given an abundant gift of salvation that is a free gift. I also believe, we must make it ours by intentionally choosing to trust Him (especially in the turbulent seasons). In doing so, we can actually create new seasons within us –more independent of outward circumstances, either good or bad. The outcome of this persevering is the most valuable thing a human can enjoy: the ability to say, “God, You are my hope! You are my rock! You are my strength! You are my refuge! You are my hope! You are my salvation! You are my all in all! You are mine! I believe the abundant life Jesus offers can straighten out all the question marks that trials raise and turn them into exclamation points as He proves Himself faithful in our personal experience. Until we make it ours, we may have salvation (the forgiveness of sin part), but the fullness and abundance of that word may be wasted on us.

Father, may we learn that, in all things, it is with You whom we have to do, that You are present always inviting us to enjoy the fullness and abundance of Your salvation. Help us trust where we cannot understand. Help us to let go of our insistence on rational explanations before we will trust. Your work is finished! Help us to do ours. Amen.

 

Balance (Sunday) – Hebrews 10:19-26

Balance – Hebrews 10:19-26

In our relationship with God, where is the balance between  the full assurance of verse 22 and the terrifying expectation of verse 27? Where is that line, that when I cross it, my destiny shifts from paradise to perdition? Through the centuries, verses 26-29 have rattled more than a few believers who sinned after their conversion. These verses have gnawed at my confidence as well.

The internal conversation can go something like this, “Oh no, I have sinned again! Am I now in that place where there no longer remains a sacrifice for my sins!?” Another part of us responds, “But, I am born again aren’t I? And … didn’t I read somewhere there is a provision of cleansing if I confess my sins?” This schizophrenic conversation goes on within us, bouncing back and forth across this imaginary line, taking us on a roller coaster ride that, no doubt, delights Satan to no end.

Most of us don’t go all the way from full assurance to terrifying expectation. We are not that great of sinners. Most of us consider ourselves to be misdemeanor-level sinners. Consequently we have misdemeanor level repentance and, not surprisingly, lukewarm gratitude. Our ride goes from moderate assurance to moderate terror. (Check out Romans 2:15)

From here, some of us convince ourselves, these defiled, guilt-driven consciences we are lugging around, equate to brokenness – something we know the Lord will not despise. (Ps 51).  We can come to see ourselves as those with deep, irreparable flaws in our makeup – which is only partly true. This, and variations of this confession, can become the centerpiece of our belief system and the core value of our identity. In our flesh, we can develop a deeper veneration of our fallen natures than we have for our new resurrected ones. As to our sanctification; If it is done unto us according to our faith, shouldn’t we expect entanglement with sin? What else could we expect in our depravity?i

How much guilt and shame energy powers religious activity done in Jesus’ name? The person yoked with this motivation may be  confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior but they are leaning far more heavily on the savior than Lord part. They may think …

With my depraved heart – with my track record, I am just fortunate to be God’s tolerated step-child. I just hope I am acceptable to him. My life is playing out just as Paul said it would in Romans 7:21-24.  I am a prisoner (or victim) of the law of sin which regularly proves just how fallen I am. This is precisely why I don’t do the things I know are right. I am a wretch. It”s just who I am. However, I am busy in the church serving the Lord. This provides me with some security (a little insurance never hurts!) My labors serve as an ointment for my uneasy conscience.

The church doesn’t seem to be at risk of loosing this source of cheap labor any time soon. Religious consciences cannot afford to let go of their guilt and shame-driven works and simply rest. What would happen to these consciences when the salve is no longer applied? Dread and uncertainty with God will move them over the line, toward moderate concern of judgement.

Carefully read verses 19-25. These words assure us that the author’s intent was not to frighten us into right behavior with the fear of hell. Our passage is unnerving to the alternating religious conscience – one that accuses one moment and defends in the next. (Ro 2:15)? The NAS refers to those who “go on sinning” as the ones who should legitimately fear. The Message describes this same group as those who give up and turn their backs on what the’ve learned, all the’ve been given and all that they now know. The party that should fear is the one who has totally hardened their heart toward God and has chosen a life of unapologetic, premeditated sin. So, if we truly know Christ as our savior and our consciences are still alternating and uneasy, what are we to do?

We can begin by settling some things once and for all. The only remedy for the defiled conscience was effected at the cross.  “It is finished.” Then, we can enter in to the Holy place. The door to that sacred place has been removed for God’s children. There no longer remains a line to cross where sudden judgement may befall us. Even If it it did exist, it is redundant because his true children are not tempted to go out and see how much they can get away with before they tilt the scale. True children instinctively shun sin and are disturbed by it. The new nature has a disposition compatible with righteousness and can flourish when it is encouraged with grace. Alternately, the flesh flourishes when dealt with by the Law.

If we are Christians captives of besetting sins, or just joyless souls who are working where they should be resting, let’s forge a battle plan. When we sin, let’s not think of it as a misdemeanor. Let’s simply acknowledge that our sin, however small they may seem, necessitated Jesus death on a cross. Let’s confess our sins. These include the sins of bitterness, judgements, angry words, unforgiveness and  gossip. Over time we learn to hide and excuse these sins of the heart.

Let’s also elevate our understanding of our new identity. We are in Christ – the hope of glory. In the long run we will be more victorious over our sin by agreeing with God on this matter. We must confess that we are new creations. We must stop casting ourselves as victims of our sinful natures. If our identities are driven by the flesh we are living in opposition to God. Do you believe the battles Paul fought were regularly won by his flesh while the Spirit of the resurrected Christ was in him. I don’t think so.

Father, help us to find those with whom we can assemble – who are able, by way of their example, to demonstrate what sincere hearts living in full assurance look like. Help us to build and sustain growing communities of grace saturated men and women who are innovators in encouragement. Together, we will hold fast our confession of hope without wavering, for You who promised are faithful. We refuse to throw away our confidence, which is going to have a tremendous reward on that Great Day.  Your love has cast out fear enabling our full assurance of faith, fueling our anticipation of your blessed return.

 

Balance (Saturday) – Luke 10:38-42

Balance – Luke 10:38-42

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”  

How is Jesus completing his work on earth? The church has answered this question; “We will send more people to seminary – so more churches can be established – so that more sermons can be peached – more bible studies can be held – more programs can be sponsored – more missionaries can be sent – more crusades can be sponsored and more books can be written.” My interpretation of this answer is, “We will add more gears to the existing machine and better lubricate the ones already whirling.” Let’s call this Plan “a”. But, let’s also explore an overlooked possibility for furthering the kingdom of God ….

Now as they traveled along they entered a village (a network of people) and met someone who opened their home to them.

I have often wondered how the early church grew so rapidly without a bible, without any how-to- be-better books, and zero 501(c)(3)’s. They didn’t have an agreed upon mission statement. They didn’t have large buildings where they could assemble. They didn’t have the modern means of transportation and communication we consider essential to the completion of Christ’s work on earth. So, what was it the early church had that God used so dramatically in the beginning?

Let’s take inventory. In our passage, we only have Jesus, his friends and a home, complete with a gracious host. What Jesus found in that house is what he found in every house he entered – people separated from God by sin, busily trying to make life work. He found people comparing themselves to each other. He found people tormenting themselves and everyone around them with their protests against the perceived injustice of their circumstance. One way people try and make life work is by striving to arrange their circumstances (or society’s – if they are ambitious) to meet their own standards of fairness. We say, “My goodness, a little fairness, that’s not too much to ask is it?!”

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.

Martha’s question is really a complaint and an indictment against Jesus. This is rich isn’t it? “Jesus, don’t You care?” I can imagine this scene …. I see Jesus, fully understanding of the sin-born predicament of Martha’s heart, lovingly saying (with his hands on her shoulders, looking into her eyes), “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things.” Martha does not walk away in a huff. This penetrating observation stung, but at another level, Martha was drawing security from these hands which were the most loving thing that had ever touched her, those eyes that said so much. She drew rest from this man who knew her heart’s disfigurement yet accepted her fully as his personal friend.

It may have also stung Martha that Jesus used her sister, who was the person she had (incorrectly) sighted as the source of her misery, as the reference point for her repentance. Jesus was saying, “Martha, your sister is not your problem, she is your example.”

Mary’s example is straightforward. She had disengaged herself from the busyness around her and fully devoted her attentions to Jesus. This is what Jesus wanted Martha (and us) to understand. Mary’s example may also contribute to our understanding of the early church’s successes. Jesus put it like this …

Martha, take a good long look at your sister. While you are thinking that Mary is not carrying her load, I am telling you that she has chosen the only necessary load. Mary has simply chosen Me. Mary is yoked with me. 

God has done much with Plan “a” but let’s not overlook the plan our passage proposes which can involve you and I, right now. Let’s call this Plan “A” – we have the same things available to us, right now, that were in this story. Perhaps it is this scene and the millions like it, occurring wherever two or more had gathered in Jesus’ name, sharing their stories, which explains the explosive growth we see in the New Testament. I suspect this was the Original “A” Plan.

I think Martha left that encounter with Jesus as a woman with a transformed heart – one armed with a story about the loving correction, the goodness and the power of God. She, along with her friends, who had their own stories, engaged their friends and neighbors as “they were traveling along” – simply living out their lives in their natural contexts.

Father, raise up those who will sit at Your feet and listen. Confront us where we are busy and distracted. Set us free from our comparison-born bitternesses. Release us into this world with fresh stories of your intimate involvement in our hearts. Help us to courageously choose Jesus – our one essential thing. May we identify and nurture your life in us and in those nearest us. Amen.

Related Reading An Army of Ordinary People is a book by Felicity Dale, giving modern day accounts of beleivers who are executing Plan “A”. Her book is an account of the fruit being produced within the organic networks of lay persons. She is documenting a metamorphosis – the caterpillar is being transformed into a butterfly – the Body of Christ is breaking out of her old wineskin of attending church into her new one of being the Church. It is a sight to behold!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance (Friday) – Isaiah 55:1-13

Balance – Isaiah 55:1-13

I recall trying to start a conversation about Jesus with a guy doing graduate work at Oklahoma State University. I had just graduated with a Construction Management (CM) degree. I’m pretty sure this guy was majoring in CIM (Crushing Inferior Minds). I was prepared to offer him an honorary doctorate by the time he was done with me. That was one of those days when I was pretty sure the Great Commission was for the original 12 – exclusively! It was as if my would-be-convert had said…

For as high as the heavens are above the earth (thou worm), so art my thoughts higher than yours..

And, in my heart, I offered the benediction – “Amen sir, it is as you say!” Isn’t that a horrible feeling  knowing your thoughts are inferior!

How do you feel when the scriptures point out the relative impotence of your intelligence?  Isaiah adds that God’s ways are also in the way-higher-than-ours category. Is this less offensive coming from God? Or, more so? And, where do offenses with God lead us? One group just walks away from God’s thoughts or his ways as agnostics or atheists. The other, which is rarer, just faces off with God as an antagonist.

Both have seen enough reality (in their assessment) to refute any possibility that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God is involved either directly or indirectly in the affairs of man. The offense often takes this shape, “No, there is way too much evil in the world for these things to all be true. Therefore I will believe in nothing.” It is an interesting phenomena that life plays out for them just as they suspected it would – free of any noticeable interventions by God.

                                            May it be done unto them according their faith.

C.S. Lewis used the term “materialist” to describe this crowd – those limiting their reality to only that which can be observed and quantified.

So much for atheists and agnostics. What about Christians? Are we offended by the notion of our smallness next to His vastness? Can Christians be materialists in the C.S. Lewis-sense of the word, where we insist on seeing before we will believe? What would that look like? I believe many of us Christians are materialists and that our offenses are often betrayed by our questions.

A fascinating bible chapter regarding questions is the first chapter of Luke. Zacharias has not seen adequate proof of God’s faithfulness. He and Elizabeth had been praying all their married lives for the child who never came. When God finally answers their prayers, he demonstrates that he is a materialist by the spirit of the question he asked Gabriel….

                                                         How shall I know for certain?

The words that formed the question sounded innocent enough but the spirit of the question was not. In the letter of it, Zacharias’ question was no different than Mary’s ….

                                                     How shall this be, since I am a virgin?

Perhaps there is some advantage to youth. Maybe she had not yet accumulated enough evidence against God’s faithfulness to indict him as absent in the affairs of men. Mary’s was a question born in awe and wonder. Gabriel’s response leads to me to think Zachariah’s question was as thinly veiled indictment. in Mary, there was a precious and innocent faith that simply agreed with God….

For nothing will be impossible with God … Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.

A few years ago, God arranged the circumstances of my life such that I could see my own Zachariah – heart. I was filled with questions that were just lightly disguised complaints. My disgruntlement was always just below the surface fueling a peculiar zeal and passion which actually passed as elder-quality spirituality. I eventually discovered a root of bitterness which had been darkening my outlook.

While my burden as a Christ follower should have been light, mine had become unbearably heavy. Yet, I was toting it around with pride, as my cross to bare. My definition of faith at that time was: trusting that God is good in the presence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Is this the faith we are told pleases God? I don’t think so. I had some friends operating with a different understanding of faith. Their definition was: trusting that God is good all the time.  Consequently they were always looking for and regularly finding sufficient evidence to support their definition. For this group as well – it seemed it was being done unto them according to their faith. This makes sense because ….

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is rewarder of those who seek Him.

Since dealing with my bitter root, I have discovered that God is in a better mood than I had thought. I am no longer reading books like; Why God Does Bad Things to Good People (imaginary title) or Wilderness Spirituality (real title). I’m not stumbling as badly when I find scriptures that don’t make sense. There is no question that the light in me is of a far better quality today. It is like viewing life through a father-filter as opposed to a step father-filter. Consequently, faith is not nearly so difficult.

I no longer see agnostics, atheists or even Christian materialists, such as myself, as beyond God’s reach. We are all thirsting at some level. However, we have much relabeling and refiling to do. Our skewed interpretations of life have created files with labels like, The God Who Is Not or, The God Who Is Indifferent.  Mankind’s misconceptions of God are myriad but, for all men, I believe there is a file labelled, Oh, But How I Wish It Were True. I believe these hearts are well within the reach of a the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus can win back the most fractured and deceived hearts. Listen…

Ho! Every one who thirsts (asking honest questions) come to the waters; and you who have no money (i.e.; no discernible faith-currency), come, buy and eat….Incline your ear to me and come to Me. Listen that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you.

Father, may You receive the reward of your suffering – the return of the prodigals as well as us elder brothers. Thank you for your kindness and long suffering toward us. Root out the things which alienate us from your affections and those of others. Amen.