Friday, January 15, 2010

At World's End

The 2 scariest words in the English language I find are “unholy still”. The full quote is “let him who is unholy be unholy still.” These words are uttered by our Savior at world’s end. The text reveals that evil has a time limit. It is on a schedule for termination, and those who embrace it will go down with it. Considering that at this moment in time I am “unholy”, then am I doomed to be “unholy still”? And more to the point, when will the day arrive that I can join the group who will remain “holy” through these last events?

Christians fear the time of the end for their physical safety. They worry about persecution. Perhaps those fears are more legitimate now that even our country seems to have embraced torture as an acceptable form of questioning. But forgetting the merely mundane issues that surround our physical well-being, what of our spiritual condition at the end of all things? The thought of being categorized as ‘holy’ seems foreign to my thinking. I can see myself as forgiven. I can see myself as saved by grace; but sinless? Could I stand before the throne of God without an intercessor?

In the Old Testament Sanctuary model, the priest acted as the intercessor for the children of Israel. He went before the Ark of God to plead for forgiveness for the sins of the people. In the Heavenly Sanctuary, Christ is our High Priest and fulfills this role. He pleads before the throne of God for His people, those who have embraced Him and accepted love over evil. But there will come a time, when Christ leaves off His work of acting as our defense attorney. He will come back to claim us. At this time, He declares those telling words … “let he who is holy, be holy still and let he who is unholy be unholy still.” There is finality in those words. There is an absolute in those words.

He did not say let he who is forgiven, remain forgiven. The word was “holy”. Holy implies that actions and words are free of all evil, of all the influences of sin. Motives, thoughts, and actions in harmony with the government of Heaven – this is what it means to be holy. Our world is the exact opposite of Heaven. And in general we have lived lives reflecting the world around us. The transforming power of God appears to be on a schedule for us. Perhaps this is why so few are thought to “live’ through the end days. Many will be ‘put to sleep’ to await the coming King. This is considered a kindness by God, not a punishment. There will come a time when to live is considerably harder than to sleep in death.

But fear of death pales in comparison to fear of permanent imperfection. To have found yourself to be a goat, not a sheep – to be lost, not saved – to be unholy, not holy – and to live through the entire experience. The thought is terrifying. This is the time of Jacob’s trouble. Jacob’s great lament on his return to see his brother Esau was not just his fear of dying. It was a deeper fear that he had not really changed, that he was simply older, not different. Jacob fled from Esau a petty selfish thief.

Was he returning a genuinely different man in the core of his soul, or was he simply older? He wrestled Christ thinking it his brother throughout the night; the blessing he craved at daylight was more a confirmation that he was really different than anything else. Jacob was not asking for money, he had that. He was not asking for women, kids, or love – he had all of that. He was not even really asking for God’s favor, he had that. He just wanted to know, he was not the same man he used to be. And God heard him, and spared him, and blessed him – confirming the change.

Our time is coming if it is not already here. We face world’s end where evil rules, and too often has ruled within us. Are we really different? Have we allowed God to really change us? Or are we simply acting a good game. There are only 2 choices, only 2 conditions, only 2 results. There is no multiple choice. There is no do-over. There is no ‘third’ chance. It comes down to “holy” or “unholy” – still.

To be sealed in the kingdom of God is a goal of no small achievement. To be one of the 144,000 special souls who witness the end of days. It matters not whether this number is literal or figurative. It matters not how the last 10 plagues fall upon the earth. It matters not how many die, or even if we are among them. But to be uncertain is to live in horror. To find yourself “unholy”, does not prevent persecution, of body or of mind. The ultimate test of faith comes upon us. Is the salvation or our God real? Is His transforming power in our character real? Has it worked? Are we holy or simply deluding ourselves? This is the last great trial we face. To put our money where our mouth is.

It is not our God we doubt, but our history. We know so well the extent of evil that has lived within each of us. Are we finally free of it? How can one so evil as I be truly changed. Most times in life when sin is not being committed, it is being planned. Lack of opportunity to commit sin is not the same as being free from it. Will we find ourselves not committing sin by mere denial of circumstance?

This agony was experienced once before in our world in Gethsemane. Would His sacrifice be enough? The weight of sin was upon His soldiers. One who never knew sin, now had to bare its entire weight. How disgusting the burden of evil. How overwhelming the extent of it. Could He be reconciled to His Father after having borne its burden? Perhaps the stain of sin would prevent Him from ever being in the presence of His Father again – eternal separation – effectively hell. This agony nearly overwhelmed Christ. We are destined to share this experience.

Knowing how evil we have been, can we ever come to know ourselves in the context of the absence of sin? Forgiven is something we understand, but reformed? And more to the point, can we even conceive of ourselves as “holy”. The alternative is even more fearful. I can imagine a perfect God. I can imagine Love big enough to come to die for me and save me. But can I imagine me different than my past?

We do not need the physical presence of the antichrist in our world to begin to experience the time of Jacob’s Trouble. We know what is possible today. We know what could be done in us, if we allowed. Has time already passed us by? Are we in the sorting phase, or past it? The thing I fear most in this world is me. I fear my selfishness. I fear my judgment. I fear my arrogance, in thinking I might trust my own wisdom, rather than follow His word. In so doing am I preventing Him from truly changing me? It drives me back to my knees. I plead with God to kill the ‘self’ that fights to reign in me. All of this only points me back to the desperate need of a savior. Save me. Change me. Find a way to force me into the “holy” group. Ignore my refusals. Over-ride my stubbornness. Undo my stupidity. Push me, Pull me. Drag me kicking and screaming. Just do not let me away from Your side. Hold me fast Oh Lord, for without my savior, I am dead already…

Wondering After the Beast

This past week our nation was visited by the new Pope. In a world of 24 hours news networks based on a profit-centered mentality, this was “front-page-news.” I do agree that the Pope is a world-renowned spiritual leader and his visitation to our country is noteworthy. But I wonder why visits by the Dali Lama, or various Jewish Rabbi’s, and Muslim Clerics are not given equal news attention as the Pope. Hindu’s seem to get no press at all, Buddhists barely a mention in general, and Scientologists only when a dose of humor is required. In short, our news media seems biased towards Christian religious figures to the exclusion of most others. Is this what God would want?

After all Christians believe they serve the only TRUE God. In fact you could argue this entire blog series is definitely slanted towards the validation of Jewish and then Christian theology, with a smattering of understanding towards Muslims. So why not be happy when CNN chooses to make Papal coverage it’s nearly one and only story of the week. Isn’t it good for a representative of our true God to get a little attention? Doesn’t it serve to remind the world that religion still matters? And why on earth would I title this blog entry “wondering after the beast?”

The beast mentioned in Revelation 13:3 that I make reference to is a Biblical symbol for the evil that stands against God – in both his precepts, goals, and values. Satan of course is the anti-God, meaning that everything that Satan embraces stands in opposite contrast to what God embraces. Where God grants freedom of choice, Satan exerts total control. Where God invites debate and reason, Satan demands unwavering and unquestioning allegiance. Where God offers unconditional love, Satan demands unconditional addictive slavery. And finally, where God asks for faith and trust, Satan offers control and power. So many in our world embrace Satan’s way. Indeed, evil has a tremendous marketing machine that has warped the minds of millions into believing they are in control of their lives, can earn their own destinies, and do not need to serve anyone other than self. This is the nature of the beast described in Revelations.

Obviously, were Satan to visit our capital in the flesh, Christians would immediately decry his welcome. We would be appalled that our governmental leaders would openly accept and listen to words coming directly from the evil one. We picture Satan as red-skinned, dual horns from his head, 6-6-6 tattooed on his forehead, with a spiked tail and a pitchfork. This image is one we are comfortable with. But to picture him as a smooth talking Brad-Pitt look alike with words that offer hope and peace – seems counter to our imagery therefore not Satan. But what if it is? What if Satan is responsible for the red-skinned, pitch-forked image we imagine in the first place. What if he actually does look more like Robert Redford, with a voice like Andrea Boccelli, and with the speaking ability of Ronald Reagan (the great communicator). Dodging our preconceived ideas of his appearance we would undoubtedly give his words consideration. We might actually listen to his arguments. Lest you believe him ineffective, he was able to dissuade 1/3 of all the angels in Heaven to follow his ideas. This is not the mark of an idiot.

Could it be that the ‘Beast’ is already among us? Some have proffered the idea that G.W. might be the anti-christ. This may be humorous, but is unfair and untrue. G.W. is nothing more than flawed Christian, just like me, or just like you. His flaws may yield more consequences to us all, but it does not put him in league with absolute evil. But does one have to be entirely evil, to do the work of the evil-one? In short, no. When someone is given attention, the words they speak have consequence. If they stand and say something counter the principles of God, they speak on behalf of evil, and their tongue becomes the tool of the Beast. The papal system preaches the infallibility of the Pope, the idea that man can be saved by penance (his own actions), and the idea that man’s edicts are more important than the edicts of God. The papal system has re-written the original 10 commandments, and plainly admits to changing the day of worship God ordained from the seventh to the first day of the week. This entire series of arguments is not Biblically centered. It is works centered. It is based on the teachings of men. And it stands in stark contrast to the teachings found in the Bible. This set of beliefs is not just a disagreement among Christians over doctrine, it is a fundamental assault on the character of God himself.

Yet the Pope is followed by the press, and his fans, as would one of the great rock-stars of our era. His words are listened to for spiritual guidance even though the foundation of his belief system is essentially the same as every other false religion that has ever existed on this earth – that man can work enough to save himself – in short, man does not truly need God for Salvation, he can rely on his own efforts, or will fail by them. This does not make the Pope the antichrist either. That title would be too restrictive if ONLY applied to the Pope. Does not Buddhism and Hinduism proffer the same idea (man can achieve inner peace through the strength of his own determination). Does not Muslim religion teach that only strict adherence to the Quran will enable one to enter Paradise? - Or the Jewish faith essentially teach that ONLY by following the Torah can one be saved. All of these religions have beautiful aspects of truth found in them. And all of these religions have a singular fundamental flaw – that man can somehow save himself. True Christianity embraces man’s inability to save himself, and therefore the need of a savior. This is the fundamental distinction between the true God, and all of those who would proclaim themselves to be god.

Revelation 13:3 has sometimes been interpreted that after the Pope’s beheading by Napoleon, the Catholic Church would again rise in prominence until the entire world wondered after the beast yet again. This interpretation does not seem to be wide enough to incorporate the many representatives the Beast employs today. There are many competing ideas that regularly assault the fundamentals of Christianity. Those that assert your independence is your most closely guarded asset, teach you a principle opposite to the government of God. You are not independent in that control of your life is not up to you, nor can it ever be. Your life and fate will be determined outside of yourself. You have only to choose which power will have influence over it (good or evil). No choice for God is a default choice for Satan. It is not your independence that should be cherished, but your humble acceptance of your need of God that should be developed. Your recognition of your condition, not your denial of it.

When the Dali Lama says that inner peace is possible he is not lying. He is simply not telling you where the actual source of inner peace can be found. It is not in meditation that peace is achieved; it is in unselfish service to others. The principles of the government of God are the values to be cherished. Focus on self is to be avoided, focus on service to others, embraced. When those religious leaders speak contrary the guidelines of God’s plan, they become a mouth-piece of the Beast. When governmental leaders seek to impose their moral authority and demand an allegiance to their own version of ‘morality’ they become a mouth-piece of the Beast. When Christians stand and condemn others for their deeds or words or beliefs that run contrary to their own – they become agents of intolerance, and therefore the mouth-piece of the Beast. It would be impossible to confine the image of the Beast to just the Pope, or the Dali Lama, or G.W. – his image is everywhere. It has permeated this world to such a point it is almost impossible to escape.

There is beauty that can be found in any religion on the earth. Not everything someone else espouses to be true is inherently evil. The Pope himself is not the devil, nor is any Catholic, nor is any Muslim, Jew, Hindu, or Buddhist. Protestant Christians are not immune from spreading a doctrine of self-reliance and intolerance. We are ALL imperfect. It is not the messenger that is the problem, but the message itself. Judging is no more up to man, than Salvation is to be earned by his own hand. People are not condemned by their mistaken beliefs; they are condemned through a constant rejection of the love God offers. To single out any particular religion, or person, and call them the antichrist, or claim they have embraced the mark-of-the-beast is to miss the entire point. The Beast’s message is to be countered with the truth, no matter who the messenger. The principles of Heaven should be espoused and placed in stark contrast with the principles of the evil one, no matter who the messenger is, or the where the forum for his delivery. The messenger should not ever be condemned, only the words that fall in contrast to the values of God’s character. There is hope for all of us, even Saul was made into Paul through the grace of God.

Being a mouthpiece for the Beast may not be full-time job. But it certainly appears that the following after his message has become a full time obsession. The media seems bent on giving it voice. It is no wonder that the prophesy of Revelation has been fulfilled in our lifetime. Our world seems to be inclined to embrace self rather than service. I hope the truth can be found amidst all the noise and distractions and I hope we are humble enough to embrace it …

The End of the Road

It is Easter weekend again and while various celebrations go on around the world in the form of Passover, the Christian Easter celebration, and bunny’s with eggs (an old fertility ritual having nothing to do with Christianity), it calls to my mind where the road finally leads. The pursuit of good and the pursuit of evil are both roads we travel on the highway of life, but seldom do we consider that each has a destination. Knowing which road you are on, and why seems to be increasingly important.

Have you ever wondered how Hitler could do what he did? Or perhaps Osama, Saddam, Attila, or the leader of the Kama Rouge in Cambodia – how did these simple human men, with similar societal constructs as the rest of us, similar genetic dispositions as the rest of us, become the monsters they became? Could it be that one of us is capable of becoming one of them? Funny thing, the answer is a bit disturbing.

You see each of the men names above did not exit their mother’s womb with extreme intentions to kill and take human life. They grew into those decisions. It was not an all-at-once phenomenon that over took them. It was a steady bit by bit, decision after decision process that led them to what they became. They traveled a road that was a pursuit of serving their own self-interests, and it led them to the actions they took. I’m sure with all of them, that at an early childhood age the concept of killing another person would have been FAR more objectionable than by the time they entered their 40’s. The road took its toll on each of them; until the decision to kill was as easy as breathing.

Child molesters are a similar story. The perversions they develop do not happen all at once, they happen over time. The need for ever increasingly weird sexual stimuli continues to consume them, until what is unthinkable to a normal person, becomes just another alternate lifestyle of alternate sexual expression to them. They do not even see the “harm” in their actions, as they see sexual expression of any kind as simply natural. Curing this sickness is still one of the greatest challenges facing psychologists today. Once degraded this far, it is nearly impossible to break the patterns and return to normalcy.

The same is true of the current master of all evil. Satan did not originate life in the condition he finds himself in today. He has fallen so far from the perfection that was once what he was. The road of serving self takes its toll on even more advanced life forms than us. And where does it eventually lead? - To the death of the creator God. Satan’s first thoughts towards pleasing himself rather than serving others had nothing to do with killing Christ. But the road leads to the cross of Calvary none the less. In order for evil to survive, it must conquer good, or else it will perish. And ultimately, as unthinkable as it may seem, a road that serves yourself ends with you personally killing the creator of all life, all love, and all good things. Satan has walked down this road, and fulfilled its destiny.

When the remainder of intelligent life in the universe who had not fallen into evil, saw the end results of the journey to please oneself, they shuddered at the depths evil was capable of sinking to. It forever took the influence of Satan’s puny arguments away that God was the dictator, and he was the liberator of free will. No in fact, the cross proved the opposite was true. And the universe made its decision once and for all time. Now it comes back to man.

The road of “evil” ends at the killing of the Creator. But the road of good, merely begins there. To save us from the bondage of sin, Christ came, took on human form, lived a perfect life, and sacrificed himself to take on our punishment. The cross was the worst way the Romans could think of to kill someone. It was slow, painful, and certain. No quick painless death for captives of the state – they must be made to suffer. They must be a symbol for others to take note of. Disobey and wind up here. The message was clear, and relatively convincing.

But it is too easy to blame the established church of the time (Jews), or the established government of the day (Romans) for what happened to Christ. While Satan was the instigator of all of this, he was careful to insure that we his willing tools would be the actual instruments of our Savior’s death. It is too easy to pass blame to others for the death of our God, but in truth, it is me who is responsible. I am to blame. Look in the mirror, the guilty party is staring back at you. The evil in our lives had to be punished, it had to end in death, it was either us, or in this case, the Lamb of God who would take our punishment. But He has no sins, no evil, and did not deserve what we have steadfastly clung to in our lives. He bore the punishment of our evil, so that we could inherit the reward He deserves. This was the magnitude of the gift of God to us. Calvary is where our road begins.

But Christ did not die for us to remain stagnate in the slavery to pain we find ourselves in. He did not die in order that we might cling to our addictions to evil and pain. We are not supposed to accept His truth and then go back to misery we were bound by. He died to liberate us. He died to free us from the pains we inflict on ourselves and on those who love us. He died to free us from the slavery and addictions, and predispositions, and genetic weaknesses we inherit from our human parents. He died to recreate US. He died to make us whole.

The road to the pursuit of good begins with the knowledge that the victories will all be the Lords. That perfection is not our job, but our reward from our surrender to His will. That reconciliation with God is a personal matter for each one of us. Sin is no longer to be cherished but to be abhorred. Our vision is changing. Our hearts are melting. We learn to love. We learn not to judge, ridicule, or condemn others – but we learn to love, accept, and embrace others. We become like our role model by focusing on him.

The road to the pursuit of good starts with death. The death of Christ to redeem us, and the death of our carnal selves. What is natural to us must die. What we want must die. All of who we were is to be put upon the altar of God’s grace. And as we rise up out of the waters of death, and awaken from our spiritual coma, we begin to see the real life altering changes that make the Christian life worth living in the here and now. Death marks the beginning of our journey, but is no longer on the maps as we move forward. We are made free to live. Free to live without pain. Free to love without reservation, fear, or apprehension. Free from worry. For what in space and time could be as great, as powerful, or as intimately concerned with our individual lives, as the Creator God we serve.

Our road is an infinite pursuit of selfless service to others. And alone in this do we find pure fulfillment. This is the road that led the most perfect of all beings in the universe to think nothing of His own life, and lay it down to redeem those who still hated His very sacrifice at the time. To say that love conquers all, is to understate the magnitude of what can be overcome with it. To say that God is love, is to have said more than a human mind may ever be able to truly comprehend.

The Gospel, the Bible, nature itself, and of course our God are the embodiment of what love means, what love is, and how to reflect it to others. The original ten commandments were summed up by Christ into 2 commandments to love God first, and love others second. In His final parting words to His followers, Christ told them simply to love each other. In this the world would know we belonged to Him. This is the essence of what existence is all about, it is about love. Love created us. Love redeemed us. Love saved us from ourselves. And Love is coming back to bring us home and reunite us. At the end of the road we travel is … love.

Rampage Killings ...

Just say words like Columbine, Ft. Hood, and even here in Orlando this week and the mind can quickly conjure up some image of a crazy gun nut shooting anyone he can find. The news media calls it Rampage Killings as if in a moment of sheer rage a person begins to kill anyone around them. But that is not really the whole story is it? The next invariable question is – why. The viewer needs to know why the gun-toting nut bag went off the deep end (so to speak). Could it be road-rage, recently unemployed, recently divorced badly, etc. etc. ?

The problem with this thinking is that it buys into the premise that this horrific act was singular in nature. Someone snaps, and let the chaos commence. But that is seldom true isn’t it? Time elapses; quite a bit of it usually between the source stressing factor, and the time of the carefully planned “revenge”. You can hardly call something a rampage which implies spur-of-the-moment, that takes days or weeks to prepare for. Think of it, entire days go by, with the same nut bag meticulously plotting the how’s, where’s, and when’s for his little attention grabbing hissy-fit. People, most of which the killer may not even really know, will die all in the effort of what? – soothing your pain? Easing your suffering? Where does the bloodshed in these events accomplish anything of real value?

And why does the news media fan the flames of these tragedies so insuring there will be future such events? If these killings got a 2 minute summary coverage once on the primetime news spots they would all end. I don’t say this because people will become less nutty. I say it because people would realize that even their most extreme horrific antics do not warrant the attention they seek. If you handled news stories in this way, and combine your approach with giving extensive coverage to people who serve others – I dare say the model of society might just turn over on its head. Positive reinforcement without creating super-villains that hog ALL the news coverage for days on end might just put a stopper in the process. To say nothing of allowing the victim’s families, friends, and communities to grieve without a barrage of reminders of just how horrible the event was – replaying footage over and over again.

But make no mistake the motives behind every single killing of this nature is ultimately the same – self interest. Killers may not seek financial rewards, obviously they realize social inclusion after this event is impossible, but in the blood thirsty act they believe they can satisfy their selfish need for revenge (they call it “justice”). You see in the minds of the killers, they believe it is they who have been wronged. The actions they take are nothing more than what is required in their minds to right the wrongs they have incurred. They think of it as “getting even”; though we outsiders look at it as shear madness.

And truth be told, the killers have often been wronged. The Columbine killers were social outcasts. No one was seeking them out for friendship, and in fact were likely making their day-to-day lives less easy than more easy. Everyone thought it to be OK to simply ignore the plight of others unless it directly impacts you. Leave the nut bags alone and maybe they won’t bother you. But isolation is hardly the solution for social awkwardness. And had these 2 students been surrounded by an atmosphere of true Christian love and acceptance they might have had alternative ideas to hate that ends up taking lives. We are quick to blame them for the deeds they did commit, but seldom look beyond them to see if we might have been instrumental in guiding them away from their heinous crimes.

What killers do, represents the epitome of self-indulgence. They focus on thoughts of pure self-gratification through means most of us call insane, and most importantly to the exclusion of how ANYONE else will feel about what they have done. They are out for themselves, no one else. In Ft. Hood this week the accused killer appears to have been an extreme Muslim who yelled God is Great in Arabic prior to shooting. Indeed God is great, what has that to do with the level of selfishness you are about to employ? Anger with an idea, vented in bullets to those who have done you no harm, what could this be other than pure self-indulgence. And to call God’s name into it? Blasphemy.

The Muslims believe they serve the God of Abraham. If this is so, then they must realize how God felt about Cain killing his brother Abel. Even the life of Abraham itself is one of patience faith and long suffering. Abraham did not achieve God’s promise of the Promised-Land it two minutes. It took time. It took effort. And God was faithful, not by Abraham simply killing anyone and everyone who did not like what he was doing. By a Muslim’s own belief system the shedding of innocent blood is strictly forbidden. And to do it in God’s name defines Blasphemy even in their own belief system.

No, religion is not to blame for these heinous acts, it is pure self-indulgence. And ironically religious people somehow believe that a certain amount of self-indulgence is OK in our lives. It is as if we could accept a certain amount of plutonium in our food and ignore the effects of its poisonous nature. We accept self-indulgence if we can balance it with temperance (another failed idea). But like eating plutonium will surely give us cancer, accepting self indulgence will certainly lead us to evil. We may not climb high-rises and begin opening up fire on former co-workers, but we may flirt with the idea of having an illicit affair, or stealing from an employer, or simply compromising our values for expediency.

Christians should know they are not to have the role of “judge” in the courtroom of the Lord. That role only God Himself can handle. Defending attorney belongs to Jesus, the jury or mere courtroom attendees may be the unfallen angels, Satan is our accuser, and of course we are the defendants. And we are ALL guilty as charged. None of us are clean or stand perfect against the truth of Satan’s list of evil we have embraced in our lives. However our attorney steps forward and accepts the sentence for our crimes. We must allow Him to do so, or suffer the fate we deserve. Nowhere in the entire scenario do humans ever play the role of sanctioned “executioner”. Christians who commit heinous acts of killing are merely committing evil, not involved in anything remotely related to righteousness. It is not our role to kill by intent.

Arguments can be made about killing in different circumstances like in self-defense, to save others, in times of war, etc.. You can debate the merits of lack of them under these conditions, but nut bag killers are deserving of no such debate. They simply act in a mode of pure self-interest, which they have generally nourished for a while before committing their crimes. In order for the moment to be truly unplanned, it would require being already armed for a different legitimate purpose, encountering a situation that is beyond the mental capacity of the killer to accept, then taking action without thinking about anyone’s safety or wellbeing including their own. If they have to go home to get the weapon, it is premeditated. If they have time to cool down and do not do so, it is premeditated. If they can act and still be cognizant enough to preserve their own safety. It is premeditated. Just like all the sin in our lives today – it is premeditated.

Our God looks on in horror and GREAT sadness when these events occur. His heart breaks when people use His name or question if it was His will that these things happened at all. But our God sees beyond the existence of this world, and takes account of our lives beyond the scope that we can see. Even when our time in this existence is over, perhaps ended by the free-will choice of another nut bag, our entire existence is not over with these acts of evil. Having accepted the gift He offers, we are sure to resume our existence in a world made new, and devoid of all evil, of every pain, and most of all – absent self completely. Service will be our mantra, and love our method of existence. Praise God our hope is not confined or controlled by the nut bags we are surrounded by …

Robes Of Failure ...

Scripture asks us to put on “the whole armor of God” but I do not believe it is our job to war with the world, with each other, or with evil. I believe our enemy stares us in the face when looking in the mirror. To fight the good fight of faith is to learn to yield, learn to submit our will to the greater will of our loving Father, Savior, and Lord. But defeating me takes more than I thought it might. Turns out, I am fairly crafty, fairly stubborn, and fairly deceitful. Too often, when faced with a choice to put on my armor and submit, I look away and choose to wear the old familiar robes of failure.

Early indications, in the war with evil, are absolute predictors of outcome, unless divine intervention saves the day. Long before the act of evil is committed - are the thoughts, motives, and selfish interest that spark, take hold, and begin their practice of building the chains that hold us in bondage. We craft each link one after the other, stepping deeper into darkness, and farther away from light; going just a step or two further than the last time down this road, just to see what it looks like. And soon, we are so far down the darkened highway, we have no idea where we are, how we got here, and are hopeless to find our way back home. But it all starts with the little things. It begins with decisions and choices so small they seem meaningless, but are in fact significant. It does not look like much of a chain of bondage when only seeing the first few links.

You may ask, “what does it matter what I wear?” On the surface, it doesn’t. But underneath what we wear is an indicator of how we feel, and more to the point, an indicator of what we are planning to do. You don’t go in a bikini to church (usually ), and you don’t wear a tuxedo when working on your car for example. We send ourselves clues and reinforce our own plans and perceptions by the things we wear. Our Maker knew this, He knew that with the entrance of evil into our world would come the perversions that darken our natures. No longer could we be both naked and innocent, so covering ourselves became required. How we cover ourselves these days with as many choices. fabrics, styles, and societal norms speaks more about us and our choices than ever before.

The term “dress for success” is often used to help motivate people to wear the clothing of those they aspire to become. It is designed to give us a mental cue that we look the part, now we need to become the part. But the converse of this is also true. We “dress” for infidelity both to our spouse and to our God. We leave off looking for God’s armor and instead cling to robes that we are too comfortable in. Robes of convenience and easy access. Robes of familiarity. And ultimately, robes of failure, that are sure to deliver us to the evil we plan to commit.

Submitting is just not so easy a task. It seems easy enough. It sounds easy enough. I mean how hard is it to simply “give in”? The hard part comes with the realization that giving in to God will mean a change in our behavior. There is not a question of “IF” God is going to change us. He does. Every time, without fail. That surety however sparks a different thought process in the tempting cycle – do we really want a change today? This is the question the evil one designs to get us to begin reassembling the chains of bondage he wishes us to wear. Just ignore the victories that God has brought, and take “a day off”. Its no big deal right? Just one day off? You can go back to being a prude tomorrow if it means that much to you.

But one day off, is not at all what evil intends. Once the initial barrier has been broken down, a second day is at least half has hard to accept. Day three requires only a passing thought and by day four the habit is back on track. Relapse as a part of the addiction cycle is an unfortunate reality in our world. Both in chemical addiction, and in the war to restrain self will. But the response to relapse must be the same in both to keep the damage to a minimum. One day off the wagon is one day too many. Get right back on that mythical wagon, or in spiritual terms, get right back on your knees and turn it over to God immediately. We already know God does the work. He has proven that over and over. There is no question about whether God will give us a victory, only if we will accept it.

Self deception can be a monster. After enough days of sobriety, an addict can begin to think they are “past it”. In spiritual terms, we can begin to believe that God has changed the desires of our hearts away from evil things since we have not committed them for some long length of time. The problem with this thinking, is that it leads us away from the idea of daily dependence and submission. The minute you think you do not have a problem, you come to believe you do not need any help with it. Can’t fix what is not broken right? This thinking leaves you all alone to face the evil one again. And here we go again with the old – take a day off of your sobriety wagon and have some fun argument. Before you know it, you have proof that you are indeed NOT “past it”. Alcoholics must identify themselves this way as long as they live. It is a recognition of their condition. Sinners are NO different.

And speaking of self deception; the alcoholics are the lucky ones. The lady who refers to herself as a crack whore is far better off than the Christian who does not see his own deficiencies. The chemically addicted can get help. For HELP is what they need. They cannot fix it themselves, but help can get them fixed. Christians are no different. Except the ones in denial. Christians who do not accept that the sin in their lives is every bit as strong as any chemical addiction are fooling themselves big time. And by denying their condition, they avoid treating it, they avoid changing it, and they wallow in the pain they cause themselves. This is the kind of self deception that can lead a Christian to a terminal condition – not wanting change, forgiveness, or a better life.

If you look at your character and see all the ugly, count yourself blessed. Not blessed because you ARE ugly in your soul, but because you CAN see it. The truth is we are ALL ugly in our souls. We hide it, cover it up from each other, pretend it does not exist. But it does. It is rampant and out of control in most folks. The difference between the average “man on the street” and “Saddam Hussein” is opportunity. Most people have not ever experienced control without consequences so they do not know how they would react in that situation. But take a closer look at all the little things they have experienced, and you can extrapolate how bad they would be with unbridled power and control. Those seemingly innocent acts that enrich you at the expense of another, are the basis of character that align you with every despot in history.

Ugly is not cool, not hip, and not to be desired – ugly is ugly – that is all. God can fix the ugly. He can surgically remove it. He can get it out of us and recreate beauty in its place. But only God can do it. And only once we admit we need Him to do it. People only consult a surgeon when they believe they have a problem. When you think your faults are just eccentricities, or that your malevolent nature is “not that bad”, or you simply think of yourself as “a good person” – you have no need of a Savior. No need leads you into darkness, as sure as those who are in darkness focus on the light to get away from it. There is no middle ground. There is no self destiny. There is only submission – either voluntary to God, or forced by the evil one.

I believe our decision process starts earlier than we are aware of: in the things that send us mental cues; in the environment we find ourselves subjected to. There are a variety of influences all working in concert to keep us distracted and too busy to go to God and submit our wills to Him. Once this has been done each day, the tempter must find other prey. For God answers our prayers and controls our will as we let Him. And in this work, He changes us at our very core. The evil one knows this, and it is why he works so hard to keep us from achieving it. Including trying to win us back on the heels of a relapse, but we must not allow him to win our attention. We must continue to give up to God, and allow him to win the fight we need won.

Second Kind of Pain

We have talked extensively about how to reduce the pain of evil in your life. This pain is caused by the actions you take, the behavior you have been addicted to, or the patterns you simply could not conquer on your own. It is all self-inflicted pain. But there is a second kind of pain that invades your life. It is every bit as big and ugly as the pain you have struggled with from inside, but this one you have even less ability to avert. It is in fact pain caused by the actions, patterns, and behaviors of others – the second kind of pain.

Take the pain of betrayal as an example, someone betrays the love or trust you place in that person, and does something that is completely in their own self- interest, at the pure expense of your interests. It hurts. You have been wronged. The other person is clearly at fault. You may have done nothing to invite, or aggravate, or cause this betrayal to occur. But no matter what the cause, the end result is the same; you are wounded by the deeds of another.

Examine betrayal a bit closer and you see more clearly its cause and effect. In general the specific action of betrayal does not cause nearly as much pain, as the knowledge that the trust or love between you has been intentionally broken. This is the lion’s share of the pain it causes. Forethought, foreknowledge, that trust would be broken, by intention, to accomplish a betrayal for other reasons. It is the heart that is wounded most of all in these acts. It is trust and love that are the targets of betrayal much more than anything else. The master of evil would try to teach you NOT to ever love or trust again. He would have you act prudently and restrain your feelings, trust, and love next time until they can be earned. This is the common sense approach to love, as influenced by evil, and as intended by it.

Most evil and pain is targeted primarily at the human heart. It is through the human heart that evil can do the most damage to the heart of God. As His heart is directly impacted by the travails brought upon your heart. When you cry from pain, God suffers. He longed to take away your pain from the self-inflicted things that you were a victim of, now He longs no less, to remove you from the harm the evil one is sure to bring to your doorstep. Evil targets your heart, in order to shut it down. The goal of evil is to prevent you from sharing, prevent you from loving, from trusting, from giving to another. The goal of evil is to turn your heart to stone.

Pain is an excellent tool to convert flesh to stone. Repeated pain makes the process even faster, and more thorough. Betrayal sucks. It hurts to have trust sent back to you in a careless manner. It hurts to have love rejected. It hurts to find out that your real feelings of love, were only echoed in the “words” of another, while their true feelings were given to someone completely different. No one can feel good about any of this. But before the sadness can begin to cloud the judgment, look deeper at the unfortunate situation.

First, you must ask yourself the realistic question as to your own role in what transpires. Healthy relationships, between people who give 100% of themselves 100% of the time, do not suffer nearly as often from betrayal. Often there is a pain-point involved that drives a wedge between people that sometimes one person may not even be aware of. Or more often, that the offender may simply wish to deny, even exists. Nagging, hurting words, unintended disrespect, lack of attention, lack of priority – all these conditions can drive a wedge between two hearts. There is no good excuse for betrayal, but often there are reasons this condition develops. To stop this before it begins requires open, honest communication. You must get through to your partner how you feel, and how deeply you feel it.

The old adage “it takes two to tango” applies equally well to problems in romantic relationships. But there are often much larger, much more obvious impediments, hiding in plain sight that could have been accounted for. How do you structure a long term loving relationship on a foundation of sand? Or more directly, how do you build something of value between two people based on a lie? Very often men and women present themselves with one face to a perspective partner, only to find the real person quite different once in a committed relationship. This dramatic about face is almost sure to ruin what happiness there was between them, as that was built on illusion, and now must be reconstructed in full.

Another lie that causes people to build castles on the sand is one where there are more than simply 2 people in the romantic picture. You can have strong desire for more than one person at a time, but this is not love, it is merely desire. You can have strong feelings of kinship, friendship, and happiness when being with more than one person at a time, but this is not love, it is friendship. Romantic love is to result in intimacy. Intimacy requires ONLY 2 people. It is impossible to achieve consensual intimacy between more than 2 people at a time, as true intimacy is hard enough to find even between 2. To get 3 or more people to agree on anything is nearly impossible, but to agree on how to have a romantic intimate relationship is fantasyland.

So to invest yourself in a relationship designed for two, but knowingly impacting more than two, is a recipe for pain. Both kinds of pain. You cannot expect the rules that would govern a righteous relationship to apply to one knowingly based on a lie. What you can almost certainly expect is to hurt the one you claim to love. To hurt the one you claim to have stopped loving. And most certainly to hurt yourself in the process, as you find the things you believed were entirely based on lies that could not be sustained. This is a guaranteed result from pursuing relationships where there are more than 2 people involved. Those that choose this path often choose it again, and again. This means if you pursue a cheater, expect to be cheated upon. If you find yourself as the cheater, your fate may well be sealed as a cheater, until you bring it to the foot of the Cross, and surrender it there permanently. Cheating is a condition designed to rob you of your heart.

Sometimes the culprit between two people is the lack of direction, or lack of knowledge one of hem carries. It is easier to build something when you know what you want. It is much harder to build something when you truly have no idea what you want, or perhaps worse yet, no idea what you should want. In cases like these, council from the Lord should be at the top of the agenda. If the memory of a past love is clouding present judgment you should not be moving forward with someone else. Rebound relationships are not known to be lasting. You should obtain clarity based in the submission of your will, BEFORE you pursue your romantic relationships. His will is always better for you that your will. And being led is always better than taking the lead.

The real question becomes, if you can learn to surrender your will enough, and remove enough of the self-inflicted pain from your life, will it reduce the second kind of pain as well? I have to believe it will. It seems to me that by offending others less, and by avoiding situations where the outcomes are already known to be painful, you would lead a much happier life. By valuing service over self, you invest yourself far less in what you expect to get out of relationships, and realize that your investment itself is the reward of the relationship. People count. Relationships count. And when surrendered to Christ, you realize that self counts for nothing. It is through Christ alone, we can find immunity to betrayal. It is through Christ alone, that the love of our relationships can reach its full potential. It is through Christ alone that we can learn to share our hearts, share our love, share our trust and not shy away when we find it misplaced …

Looking Back

“There is nothing new under the sun.” One of the wisest men in the world uttered these words almost three thousand years ago; and while Space Shuttles, the Internet, and mobile phones might tend to offer evidence to the contrary in the physical world, where it comes to the characters of men, he remains correct. The same strengths, the same weaknesses; we are consistent creatures if nothing else. Perhaps better stated, he might have said … “people don’t change, they just get older.”

But if this is true then transformation of character is impossible, or unlikely at best. 12 step programs seem to support this idea – once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic (however in recovery). Most every addiction is considered a life-long condition or problem. Addicts may not use drugs or chemicals for decades of time but even then they are still considered “in recovery”. When an addict slips, they call it “relapse”, and this is even considered a part of the cycle these poor unfortunates go through.

That got me to thinking, what kind of self-destructive actions do we see ourselves commit over and over. When we repeat behavior we know to be self-destructive, is this not the definition of “addiction”. Sometimes we do things we know will hurt others, and ultimately ourselves, but we do it anyway. No I am not talking about drugs or chemical abuse. I am talking about bragging, arrogance, pride. I am talking about judging others, condemning others, and ridiculing others. I am talking about trying to “help” someone else get to heaven by making them drop everything they believe, and accepting everything that we believe, as if we had a complete lock on truth.

There are many ways to screw up your life and the lives of others. Not everything is drugs, murder, and theft. A lot of subtle words, behaviors, and attitudes are enough to mess things up royally, and what is more, we know it. We know it, when we do it, before we do it, and after we do it. Yet we do it anyway – could this be defective character addictive disorder? If you know you should not do something and you do it anyway, how do you rationalize it? Stupidity? Addiction? What?

The really interesting parallel between addictive disorders, and sins (the embracing of evil) we seem not to be able to stop doing, is the number of years we persist in doing them. This is NOT a one-time “oops”. This is behavior others begin to come to know you by when they know your weaknesses. If you gossip, trust me, people know it. You may think it is all innocent, all fairly quiet, etc.. But in truth there are those who know full well it is YOU that gossips. They consider it one of your faults. There are those that avoid you because they know this about you.

The same is true about liars. A liar thinks his deceptions hold forever, but they do not. Over time facts emerge, and their lies are revealed, sometimes faster than they imagine. Once this comes to light, most trust is gone. Why? Because most people think those that lie will do it again and again. This phenomenon holds for those who consider themselves the “cream of the crop”; those that consider themselves smarter, better looking, better educated, better informed. It takes much less time for others to see these traits in you and peg this weakness.

Then re-consider the idea – people do not change, they just get older. Why? Well, all these character deficiencies tend not to be life threatening so we do not treat them with the same urgency as a drug addiction. Just because I gossip, my life, wealth, and health are not threatened, so even though I know I should not, I do. The effects of gossip can be just as devastating to others as theft, or worse, but those guilty of gossip rationalize this fact. They do not seek treatment for the condition.

Liars are thought always to be liars, as history of dealing with people tends to prove this out. Suspicion remains high because no one believes this is a one-time phenomenon. And lies rarely place personal wealth, or health at immediate risk, so the liar does not seek any help to fix this condition. They believe they can simply work harder at it. They can quit any time they feel like it, even if they seldom ever feel like quitting.

How many defects could be described this way? Maybe all of them. And if living the Christian life is supposed to be better, what is the deal with Christians doing every single shortcoming non-believers do? Should there not be a difference between believers and not? How come they look so much alike? Could this be why non-believers refuse to accept the gospel of Jesus, because they see no difference between the saved and unsaved? And if the only difference between a believer and a non-believer after doing self-destructive behavior, is the guilt of the believer, logic would dictate – “why bother”.

The wounds are self-inflicted. And the cure is avoided at all costs. Transformation of character is actually possible. There are alcoholics who have not touched a drop in years, perhaps none before they ever die. There are those who used to be hooked on drugs to the point of death, and miraculously did not die, but changed instead. What is the commonality between those who are off of chemical addiction – they recognized their condition, it’s severity, and the need for OUTSIDE intervention to get over it. 12 step programs recognize the need and existence of a Higher Power.

Believers call that Higher Power – Jesus Christ, the only son of God. Yet most believers are comfortable living with every defect, every failure, every weakness of character they were born with. Instead of experiencing the transforming power of Jesus, our Creator God, the only entity in the Universe capable of transforming dust into man, and our worthless character into something useful; we sit complacent and therefore unaffected. There is no visible difference between believers and non-believers in general because neither one sees the urgency in fixing the defects in character that lead to self-destructive behavior.

While we know better, we elect to excuse our conditions rather than pursue changing them. This comes from life-long efforts to change ourselves by ourselves. Over time we give up, realizing we stink at changing ourselves. We come to accept that people do not really change they just get older. Instead of experiencing the transforming power of our Creator God, we assume His role for ourselves, and try to do the work on us. We refuse to surrender, and instead take the reins in our own hands. We want to be in control. We want to fix it. Just give us a minute and watch. Of course if you do watch someone trying to treat their own character defects what you see, is just like what you see when you watch a heroin addict try to fix himself – relapse.

The only real cure comes from outside of ourselves. It comes from the surrender of our will to our Higher Power. It comes when the God we serve is allowed by us, to fix us. When we see our condition, and surrender, NOT work harder at it. Surrender is the gateway to victory, much like admission of an alcoholic is the first step towards recovery. Giving up, and giving in, may seem counter-intuitive to real transformation, but this is where the real POWER of our God is revealed, and where the miracle really occurs.

The difference Jesus brings to your character is not some temporary abstinence that goes away on a whim. The changes are real. The transformation is noticeable. Those who know you will know you have changed. They will see it. They will be curious how it could have ever happened. And the beauty of the truth will be that you will not know how you changed, only that you did when you finally surrendered to Christ. This is what the world is waiting for. This will be the marker of a change in our time. When there is a noticeable difference in believers and non-believers, those who do not believe will seek out those who do, to find out how this happened.

The entire process can begin with you. You can change. You can be someone who suffers less, someone who is free from the pain that evil brings to your life. You can stop the behavior and actions that lead to your self-destruction, by simply putting the work of change into the only hands capable of carrying it out. Instead of beating your head against a wall that will not give way, give it over to the One who knows no walls. Transformation is the gift of Christ. It is just like the gift of Salvation, we transform into new creatures, by the regenerating power of our Creator God, there is no other way …