Saturday, February 23, 2008

The earthly, a shadow of the heavenly

Hebrews 8: 1-5; 10: 1; Colosians 2: 17.
I took this photo while standing on a roof in Florida. The photo gives the image of heaven and earth in harmony, which to me is a "Thy kingdom come" prayer. The trees and clouds seem to be performing a duet, and the top of the tree line seems to mirror the lining along the top of the clouds. I was also struck by the obviously bright light of the sun that is hidden behind the clouds. It is as if the trees shaded in darkness are reaching up to touch the glory of the sun whose rays and beams are breaking past the clouds.

The trees mirroring the clouds remind me that the earthly tabernacle and its rituals were only shadows of the true, which is the heavenly. The same is true for our existence. The earthly is only a shadow of the heavenly. The glory and beauty that is ours in eternity will be so much more wonderful than we can imagine now. The apostle Paul spoke of being caught up into paradise and hearing and seeing things that are inexpressible. Jesus told the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Look up for your redemption draws near. The Bible says He will come in the clouds, and every eye will see Him.
This life is not all there is. For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
"Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved."  Acts 4:12.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

L.D. and the Religious Folk

L.D. was a colorful character who ran a country store a couple miles from Longs crossroads where I grew up. I used to stop in occasionally, and visit with him and any of the local farmers who happened to be standing around the old wood heater that sat in the middle of the one-room store. He watched and listened as people from the local churches dropped in. From his position behind the counter he would hear all the latest gossip and get a good whiff of all the “dirty laundry” to which he was exposed on an almost daily basis. Consequently he did not have a favorable impression of many of the church members who passed by. When one of the local pastors tried to talk with him about his need to repent, LD quickly responded, “You surely don’t want to check behind your members too close. Cause if you do, you’re going to be disappointed.” LD knew all that was going on. He could tell you who had been “on a drunk”, who was having an affair, and how the various communities took turns with their episodes at sin.

As you would expect, he never attended church, but like so many people who believe in God but don’t claim to be a part of any Christian fellowship, he did have his own philosophy of religion which he was quick to share, especially if he thought you were about to “preach” to him. He would share his own philosophy of religion with the added implication that you might want to clean your own house before you try to clean his.

He had an amazing insight into human nature, as well as an almost humorous insight into the life he observed around him. He once told me, “It’s a shame for a church to have more doors than members. That being the case, if they live long enough, that church will eventually die.” Referring to one of the cult groups that came knocking on his door, he said, “The thing that makes me feel so bad is how people treat them. It’s about as wrong to mistreat them as it is to believe them.”

There came a time when L.D. became very sick and soon learned he was dying. And even then he had some interesting things to say. Knowing death was imminent he told me, “If I have to take the early bus, that’s okay.” A local pastor visited him and was telling him he needed to change his life. His response was, “Well, there ain’t much sin I can do right now---unless I do it in my mind.”

In spite of all this, he did make a commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord while he was in the hospital. A local pastor, Owen Johnson, prayed with him one evening during a visit. I went to visit him shortly after that and found him very eager to tell me about his experience. He told me, "The time was just right. It could have been you or any other preacher, but the time was meant to be. Owen was leaving. He got to the door, stopped, and turned to me. My hand was sort of stretched out toward him. He came back and started leading me in the sinner's prayer. It wasn't planned. It was like two trains colliding. Like lightning striking. It just happened.” His encounter with the Lord was real.

Soon afterward, I went again to visit him in the hospital. As I walked up to the door of his room I overheard a pastor talking with him and telling him that his recent conversion experience was not valid, and that he was not saved because he had not been baptized in water, and that it had to be by immersion. I thought, “How can this religious leader say something like this to a man who is on his death bed and unable to walk?” I entered the room as the pastor was leaving. L.D. looked up at me from his bed, and the first words out of his mouth were, "That little man was telling me that what me and Mr. Owen did won't but a bunch of sh_ _. If I won't felling so bad, we might a had to call 911."

I assured him that the Lord had honored his prayer and his commitment. I told him that normally a believer should be baptized in water out of obedience to the Lord’s command, and I personally believe in immersion. However, I reminded him of the thief on the cross next to Jesus who went to paradise without being baptized. I told L.D. that he was already in right standing with the Lord, that the Lord understood his inability to get out of that sick bed, but if it would help him feel better about it all, I would baptize him by sprinkling right there in that hospital bed. He was delighted. We invited a couple other people to join us and we had a little ceremony right there. The Lord’s presence was with us, and LD was at peace.

It is amazing how unloving a religious spirit can be. It is a religious spirit that makes us so rigid, cold, legalistic, unbending, and pharisaical. This type of attitude will not reach our contemporary culture. We who follow the Lord need to “oil our hinges” and “loosen our joints” in order to reach the people in the world around us today. We don’t have to throw out our convictions in order to reach sinners, but there are many things we are uncomfortable with that are not sin. We have to be careful that our religious convictions are not just religious rather than spiritual. We often separate ourselves into irrelevancy. Those who desire to be fruitful in reaching this current generation will find themselves being led into strange and religiously uncomfortable territory in the season ahead. Jesus did ask the Father to sanctify us, which is to set us apart from the world. But then Jesus said to the Father, “As You have sent Me into the world, even so I send them into the world” (John 17: 18). Sanctification is God’s taking the world out of us. A religious spirit is our taking ourselves out of the world and separating ourselves into being out of touch, out of reach, and irrelevant to the very people we need to reach. How do we obey Jesus’ command to not eat and drink with the drunken, while following His example of eating with sinners and being called a drunkard? There is a place where God’s love brings wisdom. A religious spirit is so sanctimonious it keeps us away from the very people we need to reach; and when it does not keep us away, it drives them away. Jesus told the Pharisees, “The harlots and sinners will get into heaven before you." Sometimes we are so busy keeping the outside of the pot clean that we lose touch with the inner living fountain of God’s life and love.