Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Discipline of Faith

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. – Galatians 6:7-8

To paraphrase something Dr. Charles Stanley says every so often, a lot of people sow the seeds of their own destruction then pray to God for a crop failure. 

I'm doing a little rehashing as I try to work through my own understanding.   We have talked some recently about the reality of Christ in us, of the incomprehensible truth that the Holy Spirit of the Triune God dwells within the frail, mortal clay of humanity.  Jesus made us the promise in John 14:15-17, saying: 

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,  to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 
 That is “another Helper” of the same kind as Christ Jesus Himself, according to those who have studied New Testament Greek. 

In his First Epistle John tells us something else startling:  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God  (I John 3:9).  I guess John never met Jimmy Swaggert or Jim Bakker.  Or me.  Ah, but wait, maybe I missed something there.  Sometimes people will emphasize the fact that John talks about “practicing sin habitually”.  But there’s perhaps a more important point in that he speaks of the one who is “born of God”. 

I’m not going to go through and quote and references all the Scriptures with regard to this because it is about half of the New Testament and common knowledge to most of us.  Nicodemus came to Jesus asking questions about the kingdom and Jesus said that to enter the kingdom, to be a part of the new Israel, the Church, one would have to be born from above, i.e., born of God.  When a person is conceived, he or she acquires a human nature.  I do not understand the mystery of how that happens in the biological, material realm, and I certainly do not pretend to understand it in the spiritual.  But I know it happens materially because every person I have ever met appears to have a human nature.  Some are very limited; some are very warped.  They are still human. 

Feral children fascinate me because, though they are born humans, if they are reclaimed past a certain point, they do not appear to be capable of becoming fully human.  It bothers me that in evangelical circles so much emphasis is placed on “conversion” and so little on teaching people how to live as Christians.  The Great Commission is not “make converts” but “make disciples”.  By ignoring the one-on-one nature, the nurturing and the investment that discipleship requires, we can create a multitude of feral Christians.  If I did not become such a one, it is because there were people who cared enough to invite me, a swaggering smart-ass, not to their churches, but to their dinner tables.  Their contribution was not to impart doctrines to me but spirit and life.  They showed me what it means to follow Christ and to be filled with the Spirit. 

Because of the Cross, we are reconciled to God – all of us, I might hope.  We can have the seed of the Spirit implanted in our hearts and be born with a new nature, with a new and eternal kind of life.  As I said before, I do not understand how it works, but I have seen it so I know it does.  The old human nature has been crucified with Christ and is dead.  Sadly, we are still dragging the old Adam around, rather like the Mariner’s albatross.  No doubt a death-stiffened bird with its wings outstretched would look like a cross.  I don’t go much for decorative jewelry – my watch is a Casio and my wedding band is tungsten carbide, but if I wore a cross, that is what it would symbolize – the death of the old me.  Who shall deliver me, Paul asks, from this body of death?

We have a choice every waking moment to play “Weekend at Bernie’s” with a corpse, to animate the old man like a marionette, or to push that old nature aside and live in and by the Spirit.  Paul makes an interesting comparison in Ephesians 5:18, … do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.  Like wine, the Holy Spirit involves surrendering to what we might call an altered state of consciousness.  We realize that Christ dwells in us, and we decide to let Him have control.  We stop trying to be the puppet master, controlling a lifeless mannequin. 

It is in this surrender to the indwelling Christ that we find victory, deliverance, peace, and joy because it ceases to be about “me”.   The disciple slowly begins to realize that the old nature can be put off, pushed away, and ignored.  Vigilance is still necessary, but we do not have to depend on the mere self when we have direct access to ‘I AM’.   We live, then, by faith. 

Here is Colossians 3:1-4 from Wuest’s Expanded Translation:

In view of the fact, therefore, that you were raised with Christ, the things above be constantly seeking, where Christ is, on the right hand of God, seated.  The things above be constantly setting your mind upon, not things on the earth; for you died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God.  Whenever the Christ is made visible, our life, then also you with Him shall be manifested in glory.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Problem of Evil

Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.’ — Deuteronomy 32:35

Nearly thirty years ago I met a teenage boy, we'll call him B., outside a high school gym.  My initial reaction to him was visceral and not so much irrational as extra-rational.  I remember seeing black beetles crawling out of a hole where someone's family pet had been buried.  I felt the same unease I experienced upon meeting B.  For a time, he became involved in the lives of people I knew.  I didn't like his smirk and would have wiped it off his face, except, as he blatantly told another adult, "I'm under-age.  You can't touch me."  He brought pain to several people I cared about over a period of a couple of years then, mercifully, dropped off our screens — for about ten years.

B. could be a charming person, a natural-born salesman — some said.  To me, he was dishonest, always wearing a mask, a manipulator.  Other people were pawns to be moved at his whim on a board that only he could see.  He was clearly very clever and thought himself brilliant, though he never did well in school.  He seemed to prefer to fail from not trying rather than have try and find that he was merely above average.  Bankrolled by hard-working, thrifty parents, he went off to college in another state where he spent most of his time seducing girls and using the drugs he peddled. 

Eventually he made his way back to his old stomping grounds, picked up a job selling cars, and happened to run into a girl he had known in high school — one of his rare failed conquests.  I had been involved with the girl's family at the time and my warnings may have helped keep her out of his clutches.  I wasn't around when he came back. 

B. harbored a particular animosity toward me.  He was too good at his game to express it openly and certainly too cowardly to brace me or anyone else since his protected juvenile status had evaporated.  I am not egotistical enough to think that he targeted the girl just to get back at me.  She was attractive enough on her own.   Nevertheless, he did seem to relish the fact that he could rub his conquest in the faces of those, including me, who had thwarted his designs.  I suppose I should credit him with showing some responsibility when he married the girl after getting her pregnant, but I thought she would have been better off without his noble gesture.  In my less charitable moments, I thought marriage just gave him more control over the girl and of their child when she was born.  It also gave him a chance to milk more money from his parents who were thrilled to at last have a grandchild.  The marriages of their two older sons had not produced any offspring.  The baby was welcomed. 

B.'s ways did not change.  He could not keep a job.  He continued to manipulate people, to do drugs, to run with his friends.  It was common for B., out in public, to point out a good-looking woman for an unfavorable comparison to his wife.  He flaunted his infidelities and physically abused his wife when she objected then shamed her into covering the bruises.  When someone noticed a nasty set of bruises on her legs, the woman passed it off as a side-effect of the medicine she took for high blood pressure.  It was like watching a made-for-TV movie.  I could not believe that, in the '90s, women would still do such things.

After about four years, the young woman got up her courage, partly out of concern for her daughter, and left him.  Her mistake was not going far enough.  B. went to church and had a dramatic conversion.  He met me on the road a day or so later and shared the story of his "Damascus Road" experience.  I slammed him down between seats of his car, and, with my hand on his throat so as to slow his lies, I snarled, "If I had killed you when you were fifteen, I'd be out of prison by now." 

I was a little surprised that he did not have me arrested, but there were no witnesses, and B. knew that his most effective revenge would be to win his way back into his wife's good graces and continue to destroy her life, which is pretty much what he did.   The truth was that my reaction was more an expression of my utter impotence than anything else.  I raged because, in the end, it was not my business.   I could not, short of actually twisting his head off, effectively intervene.  It had to come down to the girl seeing through him. 

It took B. a year or so, but he wormed his way back into her life and her house.  Nothing changed except that he had made himself unwelcomed at most of the dealerships in the area and so was reduced to selling office equipment and supplies as a cover for his drug deals.  The bills were paid by his wife.  Any money he got, he blew on himself. 

At some point, he began to abuse his daughter.  Whether she knew or suspected or simply feared what was going on, his wife kicked him out of the house again and went through with the divorce this time.  But, with his parents' support and money, B. got regular visitation.  The abuse continued. 

As might be expected, what the young woman had suffered had a negative impact on her life.  She began to fall apart, all the more rapidly because she could not protect her child.  People labeled her as crazy.  Desperate for money, she stole from her employer.  Mercifully, she only lost her job and her house.  Her daughter, now a twelve-year-old and still wetting the bed, had to move in with her father and his new girlfriend. 

The little girl made the best of it.  She made friends with another girl at school and invited her to the house for a sleep-over.  Again, this sounds like something from a bad television script, but it is true.  B. drugged his girlfriend and slipped some kind of sleeping medication to the two girls.  Apparently his dosage was too light, and when he attempted to molest his daughter's friend, she woke up and pushed him away.  The girl and her mother brought charges against B., but a jury let him off.  That was three years ago. 

B.'s ex-wife got her life back on track, got her daughter back with her, and found a new job.  She still hated and feared B., but he was more or less out of her life.  Then, one night last week, the police arrived at her house.  They had been told that B. had made threats against her and her daughter as well as a number of other people.  A manhunt had been initiated for B., now a man in his forties.  He was accused of breaking into a house and raping a teenage girl at gunpoint while her parents were away.  Late the next day, B. was taken into custody.  He gave up without resistance, though he was armed, a coward to the end. 

Right now, he sits in a jail cell somewhere.  He will not be released on bond.  He will likely spend most if not all the rest of his life in prison.  His parents know the truth.   The jury that turned him loose three years ago knows the truth.  This is not the first rape he has committed.  I pray that it will be the last.  When the news came, my first thought was not that justice had finally been done.  Oddly the very first thought went back to the image of his smirking face outside the gym door.  A line of victims seemed to stand in the shadows behind him, like ghosts from the future.  A list of his atrocities appears on the wall as if written by the finger of God.  All I had to do was shove him back against the wall and slit his throat.  Yes, I would have suffered.  But see how many would have been spared.

This is the problem of evil at its most personal.  This is how I feel when I hear the names of the dead and wounded from Aurora, Colorado.  Why couldn't I have acted on my instinct?  I was right about B. in that very first meeting before I even knew his accursed name.  I have been right for thirty years.  Even that day on the road, if I had choked the life out of him then, I could have prevented this last rape and at least one other along with the abuse of his daughter, not to mention a dozen or more other crimes against God and man.   

The answer lies near here, I think.  These kinds of attacks on decency and righteousness, acts of perversion and defilement are offenses first against God.  The wrath of man, or of a man, as James says, does not produce the righteousness God requires (James 1:19-20).  In other words, it was never my business.  If I had indeed killed B. when he was fifteen, his daughter would never have been born.  Some person might be in the world instead of her.  She, despite the evil of her father, despite her own suffering, is a good person, kind, caring, and selfless.  I might have a faint idea of the suffering my action could have prevented, but what of the evil my rashness might have unleashed?  Could I see the ghost of that?  We do not know and cannot know what shores the ripples of our actions might wash. 

Here in the shadowlands the best choice will ever be to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God. 

FrodoWhat a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!"
Gandalf:  "Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity."
Frodo"He deserves death."
Gandalf:  "Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. ..."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Panning for Gold

When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually.  And he threw stones  at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people  …  Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.”  
But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’”  And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.  It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me,  and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” – 2 Samuel 16:5-12

I’m pretty much with the sons of Zeruiah on this one.  I would have been the guy with the sword thinking, I may not be able to fix everything, but I can good and well put that dude in his place.  David, though, is the man who shares God’s heart.  For all his faults, David is enlightened in a way that few operating under the Mosaic Covenant were.  Truly he is among the prophets. 

We could read this as looking for karma.  David had sinned.  He deserved some kind of retribution.  His son was rebelling against him.  He was going into exile, losing his position of leadership.  Shimei wrongly attributes David’s predicament to his having usurped the kingdom from Saul and being a contributor to the former king’s fall and death.  Did David then hope that he would be restored due to Shimei’s false accusation through a karmic rebound?  It kind of sounds like that. 

I think, though, David had a different understanding of God’s nature and purpose, a deeper comprehension of how the Divine works in and through the mortal and material.  Our God addresses us in many forms.   There’s a great quote from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, an exchange between the kid and the backslidden clergyman, Tobin:
I ain’t heard no voice, he said.

When it stops, said Tobin, you’ll know you’ve heard it all your life.

Abishai and Joab, the sons of David’s sister, Zeruiah, were loyal and steadfast supporters of David.  Very much like Shimei, they believed fealty was a matter of blood, family, and kinship.  David recognized the deceptive nature of appearance, of human existence.  He, however faintly and imperfectly, perceived that beyond what we think of as real lies the reality.  He knew he had heard a voice, and he knew who was talking.  He might not always understand the reasons behind it, but he recognized the source. 

Like David, we have a reason for being here on the earth at this time.  We have a mission.  For some people, their mission is straightforward and spelled out for them in bold terms.  I think of Billy Graham, Eric Liddell, Hudson Taylor, my friends living in a Muslim nation supporting and encouraging their fellow Christians there.  I think, too, of a child, conceived in sin, who saved his mother’s life while still in her womb.  Whatever else may happen and wherever he may end up, that was his first purpose for coming into the world.  I’d like to think he volunteered.

Most of us, though, have a less clear purpose.  If we are working on a building, we are doing so without blueprints, trying to lay a foundation in the dark, raising beams by feel, drilling and driving blindfolded.  We do what comes handy.  We get a job rather than pursue a career.  We live where it is convenient.  We go to a church that isn’t too far away.  We follow well-trod paths and rutted roads.  We’re working for the weekend or saving up for “retirement” when we will have absolutely no idea what to do with ourselves.  There are a myriad of older folks for whom “going to the doctor” is one of the high points of existence.  Or we become one like my wife’s aunt who used to say, when she still had her faculties, “I really like goin’ to Wal-Mart’s.” 
Yet, even in a world like this, we should not allow ourselves to lose hope because of appearances.  God is good.  There is none good but God.  Or, to put it another way, if you will choose to know only the good, you will always be in touch with what is true.  Only the good is real.   Like David, we must sometimes do a little sifting to get to the absolute – the Good, the Real, the True, because it seems “good” to me to help old Shimei instantly lose ten pounds of ugly fat, as the joke went. 

Interestingly, it would later be Abishai’s brother Joab that would put David back on track after the death of Absalom.  It’s proper to have a soft heart, but those around you are not always going to be able to grasp the greater reason behind your grief.  Sometimes you have to put on a happy face for the sake of those not yet able to see so deeply.

David held out hope toward Shimei as he did toward Absalom and many others.  He was always looking for the good to which they might rise no matter how low down they seemed to stand at any given moment.  We can do the same thing, especially for those closest to us.  We can speak, not to the appearance, but to Christ within them.  For, I must always remember, if Christ dwells in me, He dwells also in my idiot neighbor – when I’m not the idiot neighbor.  We all may reach the goal to which and for which we are called. 

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained. – Philippians 3:12-16 (Emphasis, mine)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Out of Sight

How great are your works, O Lord! 
Your thoughts are very deep! 
The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this: 
that though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever;
but you, O Lord, are on high forever.  
For behold, your enemies, O Lord,
for behold, your enemies shall perish;
all evildoers shall be scattered
-- Psalm 92:5-9

I knew an old hillbilly farmer who, back in his time, could cradle wheat ten hours a day.  He was relating some of the work he had done cutting his place out of the brush, plowing with a team and a double-shovel, cutting stave bolts with a crosscut, and fighting drought and depression.  There was no hyperbole, no exaggeration, yet it would have made Hercules think twice about signing up.  The old man shook his head as he ended his tale, "I could put in a good day's work, but I never was the man my pap was."    My father would say the same thing, as would I, most certainly. 

There is a tendency in the better class of people to look back upon our predecessors and think that the world is degenerating, that the next generation will not be up to the task.  We all have a kind of apocalyptic vision built into us, believing that, as Paul said, "[E]vil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse".  Things always seem to be on a downhill slope in an avalanche of destruction.  While I do think this was a better country when I was young, I can also remember the '70s and some bad times in the early '80s, Chevy Vegas and Chrysler K-cars, the Captain and Teneille and Donny and Marie on television.  I lived through the Jet Age and the Space Age but also through the Polyester Double Knit Age.  I survived the Carter Administration and Debby Boone singing "You Light Up My Life".  Really, is that insipid song from the Titanic movie any worse than that?

No, some things are actually better than they used to be or at least not any worse.  Television only seems worse because there is so much more of it, but we have alternatives.  We no longer are limited to Cronkite's version of "the way it is", and streaming audio and the MP3 file have freed us from the shackles of tape and vinyl and allowed us to flee the FM radio plantation.  Technology has the potential to give us greater liberty.  I do not much fear RFID chips and scanners for I am confident that anything that man can create, man can hack.  They are going to herd us with drones, are they?  Your drones will be occupied playing three-dimensional demolition derbies in the sky above the Pentagon.  The better the oppressors' technology, the easier it is to turn against them. 

Antichrists and false prophets do not cause me to lose sleep nor do I fear that atheists will soon rule the world and run me into a psych ward.  While traitors are to be despised when not pitied, they are, like Judas, merely pawns upon the board who will suffer according to their understanding of who or what it is they have betrayed.  Nevertheless, in the last several days I have been very unsettled as I consider the situation in this nation and the rest of the world.  Oppression and tyranny have temporarily gained the upper hand.  We are under the control, for the moment, of oligarchs, plutocrats, and fascists demagoguing the votes of the masses who care nothing for freedom but are content to live as slaves given a certain amount of free stuff.  I won't say the Lord spoke to me, but a statement did seem to come to mind out of nowhere:  The wicked shall be removed.

I was not sure what to make of that.  It could be a warning to me to shape up, to get the wicked impulses and inclinations out of my life and thought.  That's certainly applicable.  Before I could think too much about it, I reached the point of reading chapter 17 of Second Kings in which the Ten Tribes of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrians.  Three times it speaks of the Lord removing or casting Israel "out of His sight". 

Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight (v. 18)

And the Lord rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight. (v. 20)

Until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. (v. 23)

He says the same of Judah with regard to the Babylonian exile in chapter 24, verses 3 and 4:   Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did; [a]nd also for the innocent blood that he shed: for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the Lord would not pardon.

I am not saying that the "wrath of God" is going to fall on America or any other country.  I am not suggesting that we are about to see some kind of Sodom-and-Gomorrah-like judgment fall upon San Francisco or Amsterdam or Rio.  Such things are certainly possible, and I cannot say the Lord would not be just if He rained fire and brimstone down on Washington, D.C., or a thousand other dens of iniquity around the planet. 

I am saying that ... the kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold the kingdom of God is in the midst of you (Luke 17:21).  I am also reminded of something else Jesus said, that the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).  The earth will not be left to the unrighteous and the evil but to the just and the merciful and the gentle.  How God's will is to be accomplished none may know but the Lord Himself; however, we may rest in the assurance that the wicked will be removed and Christ will reign over all in truth and righteousness. 

Back in Leviticus 16, we read of the infamous scapegoat, more literally the goat for Azazel — "azazel" meaning entire removal.  The high priest was instructed to take two goats and cast lots between them.  It's not like one goat was going to be lucky.  The "winner" was the one for which the lot fell to the Lord.  It was sacrificed as a sin offering.  The lot for Azazel fell to the other goat.  The priest would lay his hands upon the scapegoat's head and confess upon it the sins and iniquities of the nation.  A designated person would then lead that goat out into the wilderness, carrying away into oblivion and forgetfulness — "out of sight" — the sins of the people.  In some remote area the goat would be released never to be seen again. 

Christ was our sacrifice and His blood was shed as our perfect sin offering.  He was also, though, the one for the entire removal of our sins.  As He was buried and descended into hell, He took those sins out of the Father's sight, carrying them away so that they might not only be paid for and forgiven but entirely and eternally forgotten. 

This leaves humans with a choice.  We can accept and believe that our wickedness has been removed, or we can reject the work of Christ and find that the wicked shall be removed.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Branch Office

… [F]or it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure – Philippians 2:13

I’m just thinking – not really out loud, I guess -- out in the open.  I was thinking about the Resurrection and Paul’s assertion in First Corinthians, Chapter 15:  And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 

Misrepresenting God, or, to put it more generally, misrepresenting reality would be a damnable offense, if, indeed, reality is such that one can be damned.  Every once in a while it is probably a good idea to step back and consider more broadly what it is we are claiming is true.  It is easy to get into an argument with the world and start holding to some position that may contain some truth at the expense of the whole truth.  There are entire religious systems that have done this, not to mention the sects, cults, and denominations that pop up after a little knowledge like fungal growths after a heavy summer rain.  There is no need to name all the offenders for we may content ourselves with the egregious examples, such as “oneness” Christianity, Jehovah’s Witnesses, democracy, witchcraft, astrology, climate science, and Keynesian economics. 

The New Testament account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth and especially His death, burial, and resurrection are accepted as true by anyone who can genuinely claim to be a Christian.  We can disagree on a lot of things, but if we agree that Jesus is the unique Son of God, that He died a vicarious, atoning death, was buried then rose physically on the third day after His crucifixion, we are Mere Christians, as Lewis might say – or Near Christians, at the very least.  I’m not sure there is much conviction and power in Near Christianity, but it seems to satisfy the mixed multitude. 

We can read a lot in the Bible that sounds really nice.  Depending on a person’s inclinations, personality, and circumstances, they might be drawn to passages that talk about prosperity or health or relationships.  We may try to seek out a formula for victorious living, but it all hangs on whether or not it is true. 

What is revealed to us is that the transcendent God is not only over all as Creator but involved with us as individuals, seeking to live in us and out through us as we burst forth into the material world like flowers on a vine.  The life in the Vine is made known through us.  There are way too many of us – like me too much of the time – walking around focused on how we live as if our life were our own.  Imagine a blossom becoming self-aware and being caught up in the folds of its petals, intoxicated with its awareness, making plans on what it intended to do, how it would draw more bees and butterflies to it. 

The form of the blossom is going to pass away into fruit, into seed so long as it stays attached to the vine, no matter what its thoughts and plans might be.  The difference for us is that we have a will, and we can choose to remain with the Vine or to separate ourselves and attempt to pursue our own ends.  God has granted to humanity a sort of encapsulated version of life – a little like a battery pack -- that allows us to move away from Him if we choose.    He will allow us to pursue our own ends and develop our little limited lives.  Some of us realize the futility of a life apart from the Source immediately, others only when the batteries start running down. 

Some think we can plug in and recharge then head off in our own direction the rest of the time.  Others seem to believe that the only way is to stay plugged in all the time.  Still others believe that their battery is non-rechargeable and that they had better go as far as they can before it runs down.  There are even some folks who think they can build their own batteries. 

I suppose I am an advocate for wireless recharging.  I think God gave us mobility for a reason, as part of His plan for us.  In this, I tend to fall in between the group that thinks it can recharge and go off on its own and the group that thinks it has to stay plugged in and out of the fray.  I think we can stay connected in the midst of a world of interference, jammed signals, and poor reception.  Not that it is easy, but it can be done.   God intends for us to get out there while staying connected.  Sometimes it’s good to come back to the base and plug straight in – remember the Sabbath and all, but mostly we can keep from going dark and dead by staying in the line of sight.

When we stay connected, we will recognize how wonderful the truth is that it is God who is at work in us.  His will is becoming our will, and we are working His works by His strength and power.  All that spiritual stuff that sounds so cool, if slightly disturbing, becomes quite real, though never mundane.  Insights come to us that seem to have no basis in our material experience.  We pass beyond the self, beyond the form of the blossom, to the life and purpose behind it.

I will close with this last thought from John 15:5:   You are a branch of Jesus Christ.