Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Big River

Elijah or Ezekiel - Which One are you.

There is a great temptation to look at the time we are living in as the most important and critical time. I know that this moment is important to you because you are living it. Many times we believe that what we are doing is most important and even critical to the furtherance of the faith we cling to…In dysfunctional groups many times it is touted by leaders that they and their followers are the very last and by far some of the elite in God’s army. They are metaphorically Elijah in the cave crying out to God that there is no one else. No friend, it is a big River…the biggest. There is a vision that Ezekiel has in the latter parts of that book. In that vision, Ezekiel is charged to measure things; temples, courts and yet at some point, he comes upon the shore of a river. He is instructed to wade in the water. It is shallow but the further he wades the deeper it gets and his concept of it grows as he continues. There reaches a point where he can no longer stand and begins to have to swim. He has found the big river. Where does it begin? What is its source? If you go back to the beginning, its source is the throne room of God flowing from under the entry door of that throne room. This is the proper perspective of the faith: It is larger and stronger than we could imagine or even conceive. It starts small and grows mighty and has one source. If I would name this river, I would label it Faith. It is the King’s river not ours. What we may add to the river is perhaps a thimble of water and the impact we make with any contribution never really increases its size of any significance. If we were to take a bucket and find another source upon which to contribute to the river, we could strive our entire lives filling and emptying the bucket and still not raise the river one miniscule. Yet in the heart of man we always say ‘do something’.  In Ezekiel's diary of the vision, he also describes areas that the river flows into and becomes stagnant and foul. So, continuing this analogy, where do you think ‘our source’ of water where we would fill our bucket comes from? It is the brackish wetlands that have strayed from the main course of the river. They are areas teeming with dangerous life and where each tread of foot may bring a sting or a bite. Yet we trod off to the wetlands and brackish water to fill our bucket take it back to the river and pour it in…sounds not only perilous but futile to me. It is it is as if we truly believe our faith and eventual outcome rests on our action and abilities when nothing could be further from the truth.
The Galatian Lie - The Bucket Brigade 
We have believed the Galatian lie…someone has convinced you to grab a bucket. This is the main characteristic of dysfunctional religious groups. If you decide to stay…as I did for years… you will look back and see all your effort and peril was futile and in the end manifested its true nature: it took away and never added anything to you but enriched others at your expense….your life. Perhaps, what was told and what was believed was that by one’s own effort and action, they can bring about significant change in themselves and the world. I am not saying action is pointless and not worthwhile; all I am saying is keep it all in perspective. Take a step back and look at what you have built so far for God. Is it truly growing and becoming something or is it just another shanty that as you put more into it the worse it gets. All the while you are being told to fill your bucket faster and faster: tithe and support. Oh I know that there are some blessings you receive but they are not due to your activity at all. They come in light of your futile efforts and in spite of them – God is blessing you not because of your misdirected activity but because of your desire and love for Him. The fact is more than likely, those in such groups are tragically being leveraged by others for their own gain. This was Paul’s message to the Galatian church who had been influenced by those who had added to the gospel the keeping of the Mosaic law and in a very subtle way that seemed right in the eyes of the Galatians, had corrupted their faith. Paul brought them back to center in the stark fact that they had not received ANY of the blessings that they now possessed by any action of their own making and origin. They had heard and believed and the Spirit was given unto them as a pledge. This was in a nutshell Paul’s message back to them. Friend, by adding something to the perfect message, it is no longer the message at all; it is something else. You have begun to drink the brackish water and the wasting disease is sure to follow. I know because I preached and taught and raised a family on ‘something else’.  What lasted was none of it…sad to say but in the process I learned a great lesson and even what I now consider the greatest blessing of my life. My faith. It was the one thing that never left me because it was not built on the precepts of men. It was built on the foundation of a boy just sixteen who sat in a pew one Sunday evening and heard the message of the cross and moreover was brushed by the very spirit that gave Adam life and made him a living soul. You never forget that frozen moment and can recall even the hairs on the back of your neck that stood upright in the presence of something or should I say someone who bowed low from heaven and in my case, pulled a young man from the pit of sin. I met Him that night and cried all the way home…do you remember your time? Get it back. Some say we are not to dwell there and I say on the contrary, it is the most important point in a man or woman’s life and why should it not be viewed continually as such. I lay down a challenge, if you carefully read every epistle, one common theme you will read is much like the first chapter of Galatians: in them you will find an admonishment to remember the gospel that was preached to you and that which saved you…hang the ‘deep things of God’…I say because the Apostles really did not focus or address them as a first degree of importance where you find them…stop being a spiritual bean counter. Those that do so are of the nature of the Judaizer and not a child of faith.  Surely it is not God’s mind in the matter. I know that we are to press on as it says in Hebrews but come now, what are you pressing into if there is no base for that action? When we take our eyes off the cross and the work done there, we drift away and that shining moment becomes only a pinprick of light in a life filled with other types of activity as we enter into the brackish abyss. This is not pressing on into maturity, it is losing our way on the backwaters of religion.

Masters of Deceit

Dysfunctional religious groups are masters of the ‘add on’. To them the cross pure and simple is not enough. It is only through other experiences can the cross be fully realized. Some believe that water baptism is the point where the Holy Spirit does a work in us (e.g.  circumcision of heart, covenantal blessing, application of the work of Christ, etc.). Others believe that a ‘second blessing’ is required to live in the power of the spirit (baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Double Cure, etc.). Some espouse both. But in these precepts of men – some mistakenly call the deep things of God—the cross, the very work of Christ is made less potent and conditional. This is the Galatian ‘add on’. Let me be clear, the Apostle Paul fought this most of his life as a follower and messenger of Jesus. No friend, go back to the beginning. Expose the foundation that cannot be re-laid look at it and know it. To do otherwise is to accept and live another gospel.  Friend, your place and function is not to fill the river, it is to be in the river: to understand and experience its boundlessness and its power.  Drop your bucket and jump in. When there, the vision is clearer and the stench of the bog is washed away. It is when we are in the river we realize its vastness and our connection to others. Even the time space we live in is lost in the river. We become part of what has always been and will be, the Eternal Church. There is one Head and we the parts; parts that are different and collectively comprise His body. I may be a foot and you an arm or leg but what connects us and makes us the body is the head. In the end we become that cloud of witnesses spurring on the next generation to jump in. The kingdom principle being illustrated here is found in the book of Isaiah where the Messianic Kingdom is explained and promised. There is no end to His Kingdom, it ever increases…like the River (Is 9:7, Lk 1:33). If you have been told you are one of the few, wait and listen for the whisper of rebuke: There are others you do not know or recognize that in God’s assessment are a part of the same as you. You are not alone in your generation and you are not the only ones as you have been told. To be honest, to be so minded borders on presumption and when taken hold,  one is no better than a Pharisee.

The True River

There is a river, it is a big river and it winds its way through generations and generations perhaps places we could never go or be but one and the same river. While we might be small in it as Ezekiel was, the wonder of what can be seen is truly worth a lifetime of pain. I know somewhere along the bank are people laboring with the buckets of spiritual industry growing weary and losing the very reason why they continue. The lines of people dwindle and as they do, the burden of the quota of what is required of them spiritually and financially by their leaders grows. They are not permitted to drink from the river but the quagmire from where they draw and fill their buckets. In the end it will not be pretty. When the surplus is gone only then will they realize the spiritual famine they have been living in all those years. The store house is empty and the laborers grow few and what remains are feeble. In comparison, what lines the banks of that river? Trees that bear every month of the year and impervious to seasonal change; moreover, their leaves are used to heal the nations. That is the power of life in the river. Why? Because it really isn’t a river at all, it is the Spirit of God.