Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Saturday
Jun222013

LEARNING FROM THE LAST CHRISTIAN: PART II

In The Last Christian great attention is paid to the word “life”.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon or a teaching on Jesus as our life – until I read The Last Christian.  The theme of the book is Jesus’ life in us and through us.

In a memorable scene, Professor Creighton Daniels – an unbeliever – challenges Abby.  He quotes Cyprian, an early church father, “Open your soul to Him now who is your Father and Creator.  Be ready to receive and be filled with this new life – which is God himself.”

Creighton points out the parallel between this quote and Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Abby shrugged, “But this is just the traditional message of Christianity.”

“It’s not the one you’ve been communicating.”

Abby had a shocked look on her face.  “It certainly is.”

“No it isn’t.  You keep saying that God sent his Son to die for our sins so we could be forgiven and live forever with God.”

“That’s what the Bible says.”

“Right.  I know.  But that’s only part of the message.  The way you present it, God forgives people, then basically leaves it up to them to live good, Christian lives.”

“He doesn’t leave it entirely up to us.  God helps us too . . . “

I shook my head.  “But that’s not what Jesus said, or how he claimed to live, or what St. Paul taught –“

“How would you know, Creighton?  You’ve done a little reading, and you think you can lecture me?  You don’t even believe any of this.”

“I just think your understanding of Christianity is too limited.  It seems that the full message of the Christian faith is that God himself comes to live inside you, that he joins himself to your human spirit, and that he actually lives his life through you.  He doesn’t help anyone live the Christian life.  He lives it himself.  He is the life.  What you’ve been living and teaching is a kind of Christian self-help system.”

Abby glared.  “You’re telling me what I’ve always believed is mistaken.”

“Not mistaken, just incomplete.”

Abby went out the front door and slammed it behind her.  Later, she returned, apologized and asked his forgiveness.

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Of course, the author, David Gregory, isn’t just holding a conversation in 2088, seventy-five years from now. Rather, he’s speaking to us and to our own, limited view of our Christian walk.  Some familiar passages of Scripture take on new meaning when we take literally the meaning of the word “life”.  For example --

John 14:6  Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

John 6:53   “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” 

John 10:10  “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Romans 8:6  “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”

Romans 8:11  “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

II Corinthians 13:5  “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

I John 5:12  “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

In the New Testament, note the verbs connected with the word “life”:  find life, enter life, save your life, win live, give life, have life, receive life, live a new life.”  New Testament life is specific, definite, real, inviting to seekers, threatening to unbelievers.

The Gospel message tells us that, as believers, Jesus lives in us and through us.  There is a dynamic going on here that I hadn’t heard before.  The Last Christian dramatizes it.  For example, when Abby has a virtual reality conversation with her grandfather, he asks, “So what is the Father doing through you?”

“Nothing, I’m afraid.”

“I doubt that.  Not if he lives in you.”

Speaking of her experience in the United States of 2088, Abby says, “No one seems to be interested in the message of Jesus.”

“What’s the message you’re telling them?”

“The basic gospel.  That they’re sinners.  That Jesus was God in the flesh.  That he died on the cross to pay the penalty for their sins and then rose from the dead.  That by trusting in him, they can get their sins forgiven and live with God forever.”

“Maybe you’re not delivering the right message.”

“How could that be the wrong message?  It’s the gospel.”

“Not wrong.  Incomplete.  How is that message working in your own life?”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“How is the Christian life going for you personally?  Are you experiencing something that others would be dying to have?”

“I don’t know.  Not really, I suppose.”  Abby twisted uncomfortably.  “I’m trying as hard as I can for God.  I try to stay connected with him.  I—“

He patted her hand gently.  “Maybe that’s the problem.  You’re trying to do something you weren’t meant to do.”

Abby poured out her frustrations, and her grandfather asked, “No matter how hard you try for God, you just can’t seem to do enough?”

Her eyes widened, “Yes.  How did you know?”

“Because I’ve been there.”  They walked down a wide dirt path in the park.  “God knows you’re trying hard for him, you know.”

“I suppose.”

“But he’s not asking you to try hard for him.”

“But if I don’t try hard –“

“I’m not saying you don’t have a role to play.  I’m saying that you don’t have to wear yourself out trying. You’re seeing yourself as the one who has to make the Christian life work.”

“But who’s going to make it work if I don’t?”  She knew the frustration was evident in her voice.

“Jesus is.  Abby, the most important thing for you now is not to do something differently, but to see something differently.  Jesus is the life within you.”

“I hear what you’re saying, but I still have to do something.  Jesus doesn’t make my mouth move to say the right words to someone.”

He chuckled.  “No, he doesn’t.  But that takes care of itself once your mindset has changed – once you see things as he does.  When you do, his load really does become easy and his burden light, just as he said. You’ve been carrying a heavy load.”

She stared at him, confused.  “But it can’t be that easy.  I can’t just sit around all day saying, ‘I’m connected to him.’  I have to do something.”

“We all grew up with a distorted gospel.  We need to do some unlearning.”

Grandfather continued, “For two thousand years, most of the church has missed what Jesus said about [life]. Consequently, it always falls back on teaching rules and principles for successful living.  But those aren’t the good new of Jesus.  The good news is that Jesus comes to give life – his life.”

He looked across the park, then back at her.  “You said people didn’t seem to be interested in the message of forgiveness through Christ.”

“Not that I can tell.”

“That’s because they no longer sense their need to be forgiven.  People don’t believe in absolutes any more, in right and wrong.  So what is there to be forgiven for?”

“But they need God’s forgiveness.”

“What they need is life.  And they do sense their need for that.  Even in the midst of their high-tech pleasures and diversions, people are empty.  Physical life alone, with an empty spirit, never satisfies. People need spiritual life; they need God.  You have God.  Relax in that reality – he is living through you at this very moment.  Be at peace with that, and people will see the life within you and be drawn to it.”

Later on the high-speed train to D.C., Abby conversed with a visibly pregnant woman from Eritrea. “It looks like the baby is almost ready.”

“Yes, three more weeks before he is due.”

‘To think that he draws his very life from you.  It seems like one of the few natural things left –“

Suddenly everything her grandfather had been saying about God made sense.  This beautiful mother’s very life was constantly flowing into her baby.  The baby didn’t have to do anything to get it. It was already his. He possessed her very life.  Apart from her, he had no life.  But being joined to her, he had her life. All he had to do was be at rest and receive that life.  Which was the most natural thing in the world.

“Oh my,” Abby said, louder than she intended.  “Now I understand something my grandfather has been telling me.  Faith isn’t about striving; it’s about resting.”

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Next week:  If Jesus lives in, with, and thru us, what does that mean?

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Purpose of this blog is to compile books for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2013 by Jack Towe

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