Monthly Archives: May 2015

Wanted: Dead and Alive – Vicarious Life

At 6:00am, he set down his empty coffee mug and his newspaper, grabbed a long sleeved shirt and boots, and headed outside to the barn. It was a short ride on the tractor up to the upper, back fields. As he crested the hill, the sun was just starting to rise. Perfect timing, as usual.

He parked and hopped down. His boots hit the ground with a thud and dust scattered into the already stiff morning breeze.

It was dry. Very dry.

As he walked from the lane out into the rows of his field, the soil changed beneath his feet. Dry dust gave way to rich, dark dirt. The new irrigation system had been working like a charm and the ground the seeds had been planted in was just right in every way. The seeds had everything they needed to grow. They lacked no nutrients; they lacked no water; they lacked no sunshine; they lacked no growing space. Everything had been provided for them. But something was wrong.

The farmer frowned as he crouched down and ran his fingers through the perfect soil.

These were top-of-the-line seeds, purchased at no small cost, and guaranteed a 100% germination rate under these conditions. Even more concerning to him was that the expected time from planting to germination to sprouting should have been a couple of weeks ago already. And yet, nothing. Not a speck of green in any direction.

A month later, representatives from the seed manufacturer were called out to the farm. Under the microscope, the seeds looked incredible. They had all more than tripled in size, and the genetic ingredients they contained should make them capable of producing huge, healthy, fruit-bearing plants. The same seeds were performing incredibly on other nearby farms, already approaching harvest time. But here, they were still seeds.

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soil

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If I’m honest, there’s something frustrating about waking up each day like a seed again. The seed, in some senses, is alive. But it has to give up its existence as a seed in order for the potential of plant life to spring out of it. Dying hurts. Dying daily hurts daily.

Reading through the New Testament, it doesn’t take long to realize that God’s design for us involves us growing to accomplish big things for His kingdom. We love this end of the gospel equation. “I can do all things,” we quote, leaving off (or unintentionally deemphasizing) the most important part of the verse – “through Christ, who strengthens me.”

We want the crop. We want the amazing harvest. But we really like our “seedness” and we really dislike dying in order to be replaced by a growing, fruit-bearing plant. Complicating the situation even more is the fact that, yes, we only have to die once positionally, but practically, we need to die daily. Sounds fun, right?

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. (25) Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity” (John 12:24-25 NLT).

I don’t think Christ is only talking about service-oriented martyrdom here. His point is that we must live and work boldly with the value system of a martyr – those whose lives and preferences matter less to them than their cause.

God has been working on me gradually on this issue. Here’s some reminders I need to keep “truth-talking” to myself in order to keep a biblical perspective.

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1) I Am a Seed – There’s nothing I can change about it. I am a seed. Seeds will not, and can not, bear fruit by themselves. Their only option for producing something of value is to die, to give up their seed-life, and let it be replaced by a greater life that will sprout up in its place. Sounds painful, difficult, and eerily reminiscent of something akin to hard work doesn’t it? But don’t forget the privilege here! True, the acorn will never become the oak tree by itself. But, it has been designed to break, die, and give birth to a sapling that will then draw in enough outside resources to build something massive and impressive. What an incredible design. And what an awesome role and responsibility. Christ living vicariously through us doesn’t relegate us to the sidelines. We are still very much involved, active, and responsible.

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2) The Path to Life is Living Death –  My life verse is Galatians 2:20 – “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (KJV)

So, based on this verse, am I supposed to think of myself as dead or alive? Both.

We’ve got the alive part down pat. We’ve each got our version of the American dream that we’re chasing after, hoping for a sense of fulfilment. I don’t know about you (though I can guess), but what I need a good dose of most days, is thinking of myself as dead. Not dead like we normally think of death, rather, more of a living death. Take the great transaction – Christ gets our sin and death and defeats it while we get His righteous life undeservedly. Now, put that transaction into an ongoing, daily illustration in your thinking.

You could picture it like this: You died. It’s on your medical records and everything. By every test and standard, you are dead. But then, you (or your dead body I should say) and Jesus Christ are placed on adjacent hospital beds and you get hooked up to a two-way IV system that drains the sin and death out of your spiritual account into His. He is constantly absorbing it and defeating it by His power. And, at the same time, His righteousness and life is being transferred through another line into your veins. After getting hooked up to this gear, you’re alive again, but it’s a life that comes from Him into you. Now you’re free to leave the hospital. Only, because of these IV lines, you’ll have to stay right next to Jesus. And instead of returning to the life you knew, you realize that it’s His life sustaining you. He is living vicariously through you, so He should probably get to call the shots from now on.

“But I don’t feel like a puppet? I still feel like I’m in charge.” Well, in one limited sense, you are.

You have not lost your freedom of will, but you should live as if you have.

If this were truly how we viewed our source of life each day, how might it change us?

IV-Line

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A Shepherd’s Prayer

Dots of white are scattered ‘cross the hillside.

Flocks of souls are grazing as they roam.

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Left of here lie cliffs along the ocean.

Misty winds there keep the grass

A lush and tempting green.

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To our right, the burning Eastern Desert

Lies just in sight beyond the rolling hills.

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To our south, dark jungle-lands,

With swamps, and bogs and ponds.

And northward, see the lands climb up

To jagged rocky heights of mountains cold.

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The sheep have all been gathered here

By shepherds wise and old.

These men have known the dangers

West, and east, south and north.

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Though gathered here, each year

The flock is losing many sheep.

The older shepherds tire

And begin to look to me

And all my kin to take the torch.

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And as I survey out across

The scenery of these moors.

I quickly come to realize,

That I cannot do this task that lies before.

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In my brief, short time of training

As a shepherd/sheep for God,

I’ve seen, heard, and observed,

Some shifting patterns in the flock.

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My calling is to help them feed

On Grass of Truth from God,

Seems simple, and it is.

Simple, yes. But easy? Not.

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Every place I look

There are other tempting grasses,

Grasses I must first resist,

Then lead them on in trust to do the same.

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Some sheep strangely wander

To the Desert of the Right.

They find a curious comfort

In the heat and burning light.

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They go there for the leaders of that place

Are loud and strong.

They talk and shout about pure grass.

But little grass is grown.

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The burden there of growing

Tends to weigh and burden down.

The sheep end up assigned great work

Which sheep were not designed to do.

And never will get done.

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Many sheep are also lost

Along the Cliffs of Left.

The heights are risky, edgy,

And uncertain for the hoof.

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But sheep will brave them merely

For the tasty grass afoot.

Not knowing that the grass is lush

Because the shifting tides and winds and mists –

Which will trap them, get them lost, or worse

Push them to their deaths –

Are the reason for the green.

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Still other sheep,

While not sucumbing to the Left or Right,

Will sneak down from these foothills

To the Southern Jungle’s Night.

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Here, they play their chicken games

With predators and snakes,

Feeding on the thrills and spills,

The Jungle’s lethal stakes.

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It usually isn’t long before

A trap or snare is sprung,

Some poison is consumed,

Or a fatal blow is blown.

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Far too rare is ever seen,

An injured sheep along the path,

Making his repentant, long, return.

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And let us not forget the dangers

Lying to the north.

The Ivory Tower Mountains

Have the strangest of appeals.

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The sheep who leave the flock

To take these long and winding roads,

Often feel that they’ve outgrown

Their need of shepherds on their own.

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They hope to find a higher grass

That, when eaten, thus will grant

A new place of authority,

A higher “sheep-hood” than the rest.

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This strange allure of knowing more,

On scientific heights,

Often decimates the finder’s sense

Of belonging in the flock.

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It is not easy, as a shepherd,

Caring for your sheep,

Knowing all these dangers,

And the pressures that they bring.

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The anchor in the chaos

Is the grass beneath our feet.

While not quite as appealing

As some other dainty treats,

This grass here on the Hills of Grace

Is managed, not by temptors,

But by God, the Lord on High.

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The grass here, takes some work to find,

And tastes of bitter tones by times.

It lacks the pleasant, sugar coating

Many sheep now crave and hope to find.

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But, tasting as it does by times,

The grass here is the Truth of Life,

It’s loaded up with vitamins,

And healthy stuff inside.

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And comforting to me,

One called to watch over this flock,

To make sure that they feed and grow,

To keep them safe and strong,

Is that this grass is guaranteed,

A covenant confirms its seed

And it will never fail.

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There will never, ever be a need

To wander south, north, west or east,

In search of better, surer feed.

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So while I rightly bear the weight

Of shepherding a flock,

The weight is never solely mine,

For Christ still Shepherds me,

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Promised in this grass we eat,

Is health, and life, and joy and peace.

On grace and mercy now we feast,

With need of nothing else.

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So my prayer is simply this,

As sheep and shepherd both,

Follow Christ as I do,

Though, imperfectly at best;

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Trust in Him to meet our needs,

And stay here with the flock;

Feed and grow together,

On these rolling Hills of Grace.

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