Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christianity from the Outside Looking in. . .





A little about my background. I was an atheist for the first 45 years of my life. In 2000 many different, seemingly unrelated chains of events came together in my life, and my eyes were opened. . . I saw what a fool I had been for my disbelief.

I clearly remember how negatively I used to view Christianity and Christians. I saw nothing positive at all, no redeeming value in Christianity. 15 years after coming to Christ, obviously today my view is completely different. I was so wrong on every aspect of my distaste for Christianity.

1. It looked so boring to me to be a Christian. So many of my ‘fun’ things to do, were centered around sin. I greatly enjoyed smoking, drinking, and gambling, and I could not imagine having fun without these as integral components of my fun. Drinking especially was important to me. A night out playing pool or playing cards or a cookout, a camping trip, a gathering of friends or going out to eat all involved drinking for enjoyment. . . . Yes, I clearly remember that it was fun to drink. . . to relax, and let down your hair as the saying goes, but what I don’t so fondly remember are the terrible fights Jackie and I had while drinking. . . the stupid and terrible things I would say or do under the influence of alcohol. . . the horrific feeling of depression, often shame, and always utter sickness that was with me for more than a day after a bout of binge drinking. . . the costs monetary, relationship, and health wise that drinking, and smoking exacted upon me.

2. I viewed Christians as somewhat stupid. . . generally self-righteous, and judgmental, often bigoted and without logical thought. . . quite shallow and universally hypocritical people. Oh so superior I was to them. . . and there surely are those Christians who fit many of those attributes. . . I had some bad experiences with self-righteous, judgmental Christians which really skewed my view of Christianity. By far the huge huge majority of Christians I know today are loving, compassionate, humble people whom I am proud to call brothers, and sisters. . . they are indeed my family. I know that they will love me and others, in spite of failings. My brothers and sisters, a great many of them have been delivered from sin, and clearly remember, and bear scars from their past. . . no pointing fingers of self-righteousness, but utter gratitude for their new heart, and mind. . . Love and not judgement is our guiding role and focus.

3. I viewed the Bible as a collection of fables. . . myths, entirely the equivalent to Greek, and Roman mythology. I knew various, what I thought were difficult questions, contradictions, etc. that proved how foolish the Bible was. Now after 15 years of reading the Bible more than 10 times from Genesis to Revelation and studying it, I stand in awe of it. On the finest, deepest level that you look at the words of the Bible, it fits together seamlessly. . . More than 40 different writers. . . Kings, prophets, men of high and low estate, written across more than 2000 years and it fits together perfectly. Time and time and time again doubts have been raised by scholars claiming that people's, timing of events, battles, cities, languages. . . could not. . . did not exist as described in the Bible, and it is always. . . always! eventually verified with further research, and archeological discoveries as being dead on accurate in its accounts. I was as a 15 year old boy having scant knowledge of geometry, algebra, and trigonometry declaring a calculus textbook to be filled with contradictions, and fallacies. . . largely based upon the declarations and skepticism of others, and my own failure to comprehend and understand.

My life is utterly changed for the better.

Jesus speaking:


Matthew 11:28-30
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (29) Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (30) For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

What beautiful words those are. Feel the attitude. . .the compassion and love of them. My life with Jesus, rather than a heavy burden. . . rather than a chafing task to be resented and daily undertaken with distaste. . . I deeply love Him, and the more I know of Him, the more depth and height my love for Him has. I want to do those things, and to live in a way, which formerly seemed to me. . . from the outside looking in, to be so distasteful. I want to do them now, because I am in love with Jesus. These are not rules applied to me externally, which I resent, but my heart is filled with love for Him, and I desire to do things which are pleasing to Him. . . and I hate it when I disappoint Him and let Him down. That is my conviction. . . not my fear of judgement which motivates me, but when I mess up, my actions hurt the One I love more than any other. . . and that makes me very sad with myself. Rather than seeing how much I can get away with, I want to stay as far away from that line as possible. . . this is the power of the relationship with Him to change me in ways, that the mere rules and laws. . . commandments, etc. by themselves never could.

I so clearly remember the pain, and chaos. . . the darkness, and sickness of my previous life. In those days, I could in no way imagine the peace, and joy, and power, and strength that this life with Jesus has given me.

You’ve tried it your way, and you can always go back to the person you were before, but why not give God a chance? Why let the doubts, and in many cases the outright lies of others dissuade you from what I and countless millions of others have found to be an island of light and peace in a dark and chaotic world. . .

I love You my God. . .
I thank You for saving me. . .
I thank You for loving me. . .

Dave

Monday, December 21, 2015

Crucified on the Cross of Good Intentions. . .




Matthew 23:25-27
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. (26) Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. (27) Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.

Both from personal experience, and in my ministry I have experienced first, and second hand the frustration, and fruitlessness of attempting to apply goodness, and righteousness from the outside and expecting it to ever migrate all the way through.

I chuckle at the similarity. . . this morning I am preparing to make pulled pork on the smoker. Last night I created a strong brine solution of a cup of salt per gallon of water, and I soaked the pork loins in this for about 12 hours or so. the purpose of the brining is not to flavor the meat, but to create a layer of denatured protein on the outside of the pork loin to prevent the meat from drying out during the 10 hours it will be on the smoker. That salt only very very slowly permeates the meat from the outside to the middle. Even after 12 hours of soaking only a very thin layer on the outside is effected by the brine.

The application of goodness from the outside in, is similarly superficial. It can create a thin layer, that appears right and good and holy, but it is only a cosmetic change. Useful for deceiving others, and maybe even fooling yourself when you look in the mirror, but only good for hiding ugliness, and not creating true beauty.

Does anyone doubt that the Pharisees thought themselves righteous? Were they not full of good intentions? They thought themselves the true experts of the Law, able to discern even its finest points, but as Jesus pointed out to them, they concerned themselves with the outside of the cup and plate, and completely forgot about what was contained within.

I remember my own actions, and my own self-opinion before I came to Jesus, and I was filled with good intentions, and I saw myself, and my actions in a very favorable light. How easy it was to make excuses, and give logical reasons and justifications for the bad things I did.

Do you think that Hitler looked in the mirror and saw an evil person? or wasn’t he more likely able to justify and rationalize the things he did as somehow reasonable and good overall. . . Hitler killed millions of people by his good intentions. Jesus was crucified by good intentions. . . Good intentions are everywhere. Good intentions account for nothing. They probably are out there somewhere, but I think the person who revels in their admitted evilness is rare. Far more common I believe are those who are self-deceived into thinking their evil is good.

Is this so far fetched? I thought myself a good person. . . I lied. I stole. I cheated. . . . but I had what I convinced myself were good reasons, in my mind I was justified. In my spiritual myopia and astigmatism, my good far outweighed my bad. There is no end to which we cannot see ourselves in a good light, if we are allowed to ignore the darkness. Immediately upon coming to God, I was filled with His light, and my former darkness was revealed for what it actually was.

Now my conviction. . . my desire to do good, and to be good was coming from within. . . from His Spirit which was living within me. His Spirit, combined with my utter love for Him gave me now the power to overcome the darkness, which is the natural way of all flesh.

We all begin as people who think themselves good, and who truly desire to be and to do good. Our arguments, and logic mean nothing. If the mirror is skewed enough, straight lines may be made to look crooked, and curved lines straight. . .

Results are all that matter:

Matthew 7:17-20
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (19) Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (20) Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

The fruit. . . the end result, is the only thing by which our decisions and our actions are measured. What is the fruit?

Galatians 5:14-25
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (15) But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. (16) This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. (17) For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (18) But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. (19) Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, (20) Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, (21) Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, (23) Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (24) And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. (25) If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

For all your arguments. . . for all your logic, and your certainty what is the fruit of your life? What result do you have? Is your life one of contentment, and peace, and joy, and happiness, and love? Or is it one of contention, and strife, and anger, and bitterness, and jealousy, and unforgiveness?

Stop with your efforts at everything else. . . stop immediately with your own programs of resolutions, and self-improvement and devote all your energies into seeking God. . .

Jeremiah 29:11-13
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (12) Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. (13) And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

Seek God with all your heart. . . find Him, and fall head over heels in love with Him:

Matthew 11:28-30
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (29) Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (30) For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

. . . and. . .

He will give you rest. . .
He will give you peace. . .
He will give you joy. . .
He will give you victory. . .

I once was blind, but now I see. . .

I love you God. . .
I thank you for saving me. . .

Dave





Sunday, December 20, 2015

Panning for Gold




Years ago Jackie and I were camping down at the Salamonie State River Forest campground with Connie Smith my mother-in-law and Jack Smith my father-in-law. Across the road from our campsite was a rough woodsy area, traversed by a tiny rill. This small bit of water bubbled up from alongside the road and with a twisted course of tiny flows, dribbling falls, and shallow pools, ran a crooked course a hundred yards or so from hillside spring to where it joined the Salamonie River.

My father-in-law is a man of many varied romantic talents. . . underwater demolition, and construction expert. Among other fascinating adventures, he had traveled the country cutting up and salvaging underwater train wrecks. . . he dove for mother of pearl shells in the Mississippi River, performed construction and welding various metal works in the waterfront of Lake Michigan. . . and had for a time panned for gold out west.

That had always intrigued me and on that hot summer day, I asked him to show me how to pan for gold. I thought no better place to try my hand at this than the tiny stream across the road from our camp. I cannot remember exactly what we used. . . my mind fills in the blank with a rather large stainless steel salad bowl, that Jackie and I used to own. It may have been that or it may have been that Jack had one of his old sluice pans with him. I cannot remember for certain.

We headed across the road. I think Jackie, and Connie (Jackie’s Mom) came across with us. We searched the little stream, for a time until Jack found a spot to his liking to take our first pan of gravel to sift. We scooped the pan about half full of gravel, and dirt from the bottom of the stream, and filled it about halfway to the top with stream water, picking out the larger bits of sticks and leaves, etc. all the organic material that we could manually. Continuing the process of swirling water, picking out little rocks, and stones, by hand as we gently rotated the water around the bowl.

I was ever too impatient, wanting to too quickly flush the mud. Jack had to again and again take the bowl from me and show me the proper slow graceful rocking motion to be used. My motions never attained the smoothness of his, but I gradually improved to where rather than taking control of the bowl himself, he was alternately verbally encouraging me and correcting me.

This was no easy process. If I remember, we worked on the that one bowl of gravel for an hour or more. My thought before we began was just to take some dirt from the creek, and swish it around for a minute or two, and find gold, but the reality was a very gradual, very hot, very sweaty and extremely tedious process. In other words, it was a large measure of very hard work and at the end of all that work, we had a teaspoon or so of black sand, 5 lead birdshot shotgun pellets, of which Jack had put in 3 from his pocket when we began as a test of our panning effectiveness, and an almost invisible particle or two of something yellow that Jack thought well could be, what he called flower gold.

It took no skill. It took no patience. It took no graceful movements to find dirt. Indeed any impatience in the process would have washed away the gold with the dirt. The dirt was so very easy to find. The process of panning is a process of soft patience, and great restraint to wash away the 99.9999% that is worthless, to find that tiny 1 part in a million fleck of gold.

I remember his lesson to this day. I still need the correcting of Jack’s instruction in my mind. . . slow down. . . gently. . . slowly. . . smoothly. . . ever patiently wash the mud away. . .

Please Lord. . . give me patient panning eyes.
. . .give me eyes of soft washing, and clear water, and the gentle caressing motion of grace. . .
. . .give me eyes to seek the purity, and holiness of a speck fine gold in a pan of mud and sand. . .
. . .such as You somehow saw in me. . .

I love you God. . .
I thank you my Lord. . .

Dave