Random Blog Clay Feet: 2007-11
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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cell Phone Opportunity

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 NRSV)

Let it be all joy to you, my brothers, when you undergo tests of every sort; Because you have the knowledge that the testing of your faith gives you the power of going on in hope; But let this power have its full effect, so that you may be made complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4 BBE)

I am becoming more and more aware that God allows certain things to take place simply to get my attention and give me opportunity to practice things that maybe are slipping from my mind – like gratitude and total dependence on Him in faith. I have noticed over the past few years that it is not unusual for me to misplace something, say a tool while I am working, and begin to experience the frustration of desperately needing it but being unable to locate it, sometimes even right under my nose.

Now I'm sure many people would find it strange that I would consider that anything unusual at all. Many people lose things and get frustrated, especially when they start getting older. But God almost seems to hide things from me at times because, I am convinced, He wants to remind me of who I want to be in control or priority in my daily living. When I feel that intense impulse to become frustrated and increasingly angry over not being able to have and do what I want, I realize that I am facing a choice as to how I will relate to this situation, really a choice about who is going to be my God.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, (NIV) speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing, and singing praises in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always concerning all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God, even the Father. (Ephesians 5:18-20 WEB)

There have been any number of times when I am looking for something and it almost feels like it is being deliberately hidden from me in order to get me to reevaluate the condition of my spirit. What makes me think this is true is because quite often after I submit and cooperate with the gentle prompting of the Spirit in my heart to release my intensity, stop my frantic searching, let go of my anxiety and choose to relax in the care of my Father, that quite often I almost immediately find what I was looking for. That has happened so frequently that it makes me very suspicious that it is not simply a coincidence; Someone is behind these events who has my peace and growth as part of their concern for me.

I am learning to view these events from a different perspective, which is part of the training that I have asked God to do in my life. Of course there is always the temptation to fall into the trap of formula thinking which would lead me to believe that I can somehow manipulate the Almighty into getting me what I want if I just conform to what He wants. But what I try to remember is that He is much more interested in deepening His intimate relationship with me than He is in performing miracles for my convenience or comfort. And real relationships are never based on repeatable, predictable formulas.

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:12-17 NAS95)

These little exercises in faith have been helping reshape my perspective of reality, which I am sure there are intended to do. They also have a very helpful role in transforming my inner view of how God feels about me and how dependent I really am on Him for everything. In fact, whenever these opportunities occur I am learning to take them as a word of caution and quickly look inside to see how my unsettled feelings and anxious heart are clouding the truth about God's love for me. It is one thing to go around talking about God's care and concern for even the little things in my life and it is another to actually apply those ideas to real-life problems when my emotions begin clamoring in fear that I have to fix my own problems.

What I am learning is that succumbing to anxiety and fear without turning my emotions over to God while intellectually believing in Him, is a sign of atheism. It is exposing the effects of Satan's big Lie about God that is deeply ingrained in all of our hearts; that God does not really care about me as much as He says and that ultimately it is up to me to take care of myself. When I choose to allow worry to stay in my heart and entertain emotions of anxiety and fretting without challenging them in the light of God's presence, I am in essence denying that I have a loving Father who is interested in even the smallest details of my life. That includes all the little joys and delights that I experience as well as all the little or big problems and irritations. He wants me to share everything with Him and to share back and forth like real friends do.

Well, as you might suspect, I had another one of those opportunities the last couple days. We had the wonderful privilege of having friends and family at our house for Thanksgiving weekend. These were friends that we had barely met and were just getting to know but it was very enjoyable and nurturing for us. Of course we were very sad to see them leave as they could only stay for about a day and a half. The next day our daughters also had to leave and we were left with a big empty house again and feeling rather abandoned and alone. I know that this is normal but it still does not feel good.

The next day as I got ready to go into town I began to look around for my cell phone to take with me. As you can guess, I could not find it anywhere. I remembered placing it on the piano near the front door where I usually keep it so I can notice it on the way out, but it was nowhere to be found. I searched all around my bedroom, the living room, even the cars and the office but to no avail.

I then called our friends and asked them to look through their things to see if they might accidentally have picked it up in their things when they left but they assured me they had not seen it. Now the emotions of fear begin to pick up and the scenarios begin to play in my imagination. The fear about the expense of replacing a phone I have just recently purchased conjured up anxieties over finances and I even wondered if maybe someone might have found it and was running up high phone bills for me. It is amazing how elaborate our fears can fabricate all sorts of potential problems out of so few facts.

Last night after work I stopped by a little cafe´ to download some updates and large files onto my laptop. I ended up staying later than I expected and wished I had my phone to let my wife know why I was late. But there was no phone to use and my anxiety again began to assert itself. It was beginning to permeate all through my mind and heart as I drove home in spite of all my efforts to avoid those fears and discount those scenarios. I realized that I needed to face this issue head-on and deal much more firmly with my increasingly out-of-control emotions. I had a choice to handle this myself, even with a little help from the Supernatural, or I would have to turn it over completely to God to the point where I would let go completely of my ownership of the problem.

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (Hebrews 13:15 NAS95)

It was at this point as I discussed this problem with God while I was driving that I remembered what is so easy for me to forget – the power of thankfulness. At first it did not really come to my attention though. I just began focusing on the goodness of God and consciously choosing to thank God for His various characteristics and attributes. Over the past few years I have found this to be the only really effective solution for oppressive fear that threatens to suffocate me emotionally and drive me into despair. It feels almost irrational to just focus my attention on God and the good things about Him when I have enormous problems screaming in my head to be resolved; never mind that I do not have the wherewithal to fix them, they demand to be the center of my attention. Maybe that is one of the symptoms of idol worship – paying attention to what makes me afraid instead of deliberately refocusing on the One who is greater than all my fears.

At any rate, I continued to force my mind to dwell on the various things about God that I could think of and let my mind ponder each one of them and let them sink into my emotions. As I continued to keep myself in this state of mind I could not help but notice a very obvious change in my feelings, both emotionally and physically. I then began to remember how amazingly powerful the spirit of thanksgiving is to effect reality and that participating in this activity, which is the very atmosphere that fills the rest of the universe outside this polluted planet, allows the power of God to transform my spirit and gives Him permission to do things in my life that He has been eager to do all along.

As I filled my mind and heart with continuing praise and gratitude for God's goodness, His grace and mercy, His unfailing love and compassion as well as the blessings that I enjoy, I felt my fears fading away fast and I could release my anxiety in exchange for the peace that passes all understanding. It was no longer my problem to find my phone or pay potential expenses or... I told God these were His problems now and put them on Him completely. I chose to embrace His presence and simply soak in His care and love for me no matter what my circumstances looked like. I once again entered into His rest.

When I got home I told my wife that we needed to ask our daughter if she had seen the phone. She was the only one we had not asked yet who had been at our house. Immediately my wife said the phone had been found. When I asked her who had found it she sheepishly told me that she had found it in her own purse. She had picked it up and taken it with her when she went into town with the girls the last night they stayed here and then of course forgot all about it.

Of course that was good to hear. But it did not have the effect of relieving me of all my fear and anxiety as would be expected, for that had already been fully dealt with just a few minutes before. To me it seemed much more like a smile from God and an affirmation that I was growing in my trust and love for Him and that He knows what He is doing and can be trusted. It was not so much a reward for my trust as it was another lesson that my heart can remember when even bigger fears try to intimidate me and displace my faith which they are certain to attempt.

At times I become intensely aware of how little I indulge in real gratitude. I have written about it before and at times have been very aware that there is unlimited power at my fingertips (or more likely lips) that is just waiting to be unleashed in my life if I would just remember to live in the atmosphere of heaven which is gratitude and continuous praise. But I know how little I remember that and how easy it is to stay in my ruts which are so familiar. I want to live on a higher plane of existence than what is considered average. I want to learn to live in reference to what is considered “normal” in heaven instead of what is considered “normal” here on earth. But God is faithful and He is finishing the work that He started in me, for it is God who is at work in me, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Spin or Insight?

As I continue to ponder over the last few paragraphs of Romans 9, I still feel that there is much to understand here. There are a number of very important and main points of enlightenment that Paul wants to convey to us and I don't want to be put off by the clutter that has gathered through centuries of wrong assumptions and repeated translations through filters of prejudice. The light is still in here even though it may have become more difficult to discern easily.

One thing that has made me look more carefully is when I compare Paul's “translation” of Isaiah 10:23 with how the Bible reads that same verse from the Old Testament. At first glance they hardly seem to be referring to the same concept. It is almost to the point where Paul could be accused of rewriting Isaiah to say what he wants it to say. Or is it a case where Paul perceived what God was really saying in Isaiah and the translators failed to carry its true meaning into the English words they used in our current Bibles? I find repeatedly that the pervasive assumptions about God being an angry deity needing to be placated and appeased leak into much of how translators interpret many of the texts in the Bible. There seem to be very few people willing to challenge those assumptions but instead spend much time and effort building complex rationalizations to explain why God is arbitrary or mad or supposedly does things inconsistent with His own character.

Here is the passage from Isaiah that Paul quoted from in Romans followed by how Paul phrased those same thoughts. I added an extra verse at the beginning of the Isaiah quote for some important context.

Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord GOD of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land. (Isaiah 10:20-23)


The way these two passages read seems to me to convey quite different concepts that are nearly unrecognizable to each other in the last verse quoted. Is Paul simply trying to put his spin on this text and forcing it to say something he wants to see there, or does he have a better version of Scripture than we have to work from? Or maybe the Holy Spirit that inspired Paul to write large portions of the Bible opened to his mind to what that same Spirit inspired Isaiah to convey originally and Paul simply made it clearer in his quoting of it.

I find today that whenever someone wants to go back and examine the “original” (as far as reasonably possible this far distant from the actual originals) text and “second-guess” the assumptions of the translators, there is sometimes a feeling of scorn on the part of some academia and a discounting of insights put forward by anyone daring to question the collective decisions of the “experts”. This is not to say that there is complete agreement among the translations or that good insights cannot be gained by checking out a number of translations on any given verse. But I have been more and more amazed at how much is simply dropped or glossed over in nearly every translation of the Bible due to apparent discomfort with either the intensity of intimacy revealed in the original languages, or the words the translators choose reflect too many of the deeply ingrained lies about God embedded in the psyche of the human race.

What is really amazing is that in spite of the inherent problems faced by the writers of the Bible of condensing the thoughts and feelings of God and men into words and then further muddling things by converting them into different languages with all the inherent pitfalls that that entails, God's light is so powerful and His love so intense that in spite of all these problems the Holy Spirit can still pull the truth out of these various versions and apply it to the hearts of anyone willing to be open and guided by the true Spirit of God.

I went back and looked up some of the original words from Isaiah that are quoted here to see what I might find. Again, I am working with an untrained mind that has never taken a day of Greek or Hebrew and that is relying wholly on using the somewhat faulty or at least limited resource of Strong's research. I freely admit that there is much more outside of my present ability to see here. But even with my very limited ability and resources I can see that there are always alternative ways of phrasing passages when I look at the definitions of each word from the earlier text. The various potential meanings of each word usually contain alternatives that if applied in the translating of the passage would give it quite a different flavor.

The one main criteria that I use for looking at the various options in a word's meaning is the growing knowledge I am gaining about the real truth about what God is like and how He feels toward us. I find that if I use that framework as a filter or paradigm from which to select which part of a definition to use in a text that there is always very exciting things to be learned and much clearer ways to express the thoughts contained in many verses. I believe that Paul's version of Isaiah 10:23 is a perfect example of this very thing.

There are a lot of things I notice in these verses that I don't have time right now to explore. I would like to point out that the original words used for “destruction” in the last two verses quoted from Isaiah are not the same word in Hebrew. The second reference especially seems to convey the idea of “completion” more than destruction and I think that is supported by Paul's version of this verse. He quotes that as “executing His word on the earth thoroughly”, which is how he sees the meaning of the word from Hebrew translated “destruction”. This is a classic case of the danger of our blindly accepting notions of an angry, destructive God that can so easily be deduced from reading certain passages of Scripture without exploring deeper. We need to look beyond the surface and compare what we are reading with the much clearer revelation about what God is like in the life and teachings of Jesus, the perfect demonstration of what God is really like.

There is one more thing I would like to note before I quit. The first verse in the Isaiah quote has a very interesting and insightful truth. We know that the emotional relationship between an abuse victim and the abuser after an extended period of time becomes one of dependency by the victim on the abuser. It seems bizarre and ridiculous, but it is how our brains are wired. Even when the victim becomes free physically from the abuser and may be angry and resentful about the previous abuse they experienced, they are ironically still enslaved to their own anger and bitterness if they do not embrace the healing power of real forgiveness.

This is a real but very controversial truth of the mind and the universe, just a real as gravity. If we refuse to forgive (and we really need to learn what that really means which is not very common) we are still in bondage to the one who holds a spell over our hearts and minds. But in this verse God is foretelling the truth that those who accept their role as His children and experience redemption will be free of that psychological phenomenon through their true reliance on the Almighty Redeemer Himself, the ultimate example of forgiveness. Unfortunately it is also true that only a small number, a remnant, will be willing to enter into this transformed relationship and enjoy the intimacy with God's heart that we were all designed to live in.

This is the context of what Paul is trying to get across in Romans 9 and the surrounding passages. In fact he tries to make it very clear in the last few verses of this chapter. He emphatically declares that we do not come into harmony with God (righteousness) by working hard on getting there but through a relationship with the One who came to reveal God to us – Jesus our Savior. If we refuse to see and believe the love of God in Jesus then He becomes the stumbling stone which blocks us from receiving real life and all the good things associated with eternal life in God's presence.

He who believes in Him will not be disappointed. (Romans 9:33)

(next in series)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Removing the Viruses

Today is our 30th wedding anniversary. Of course we both have to work today, but we are glad that God has held us together for all of these years. Like most other people we have a great deal of problems that we wish were not in our lives, but we are committed to pursuing our healing process and trying to deepen our relationship with each other.

I suspect that much of my problem is because I approach solving problems too often with my left brain which is the only way I feel competent to do it. I feel terribly insecure and inexperienced using my right brain and so I remain stuck but very frustrated because I don't like being stuck.

We are both feeling the rather intense emptiness of our home after watching 9 people leave over the past 24 hours. Two of our daughters just left last night and I am noticing how awkward and uncomfortable I feel. I am trying to stay aware of my feelings and remain in a better state of mind in maturity instead of just succumbing to my feelings and immersing myself in some escape activity. Even this kind of writing holds potential to help me avoid facing myself if I am not careful.

On the other hand, I feel that if I remain aware of my feelings and connected to God and stay in a mode of being responsible for my feelings then I have an opportunity to go through this emotion differently than I often do and could learn valuable lessons that may not have to be repeated so many times in the future. It is an opportunity to grow and move another step in maturity and stretch my container for wisdom or my capacity for real joy. The Bible says to rejoice when I go through trials/tests that are designed to help me mature more and tone up my emotional and spiritual muscles.

I watched the first video last night from a set by Craig Hill called Wonderful Counselor. He used a very good illustration of a computer to describe the difference between our mind and heart. This morning after waking up my mind began to ponder this much more and a lot more details are beginning to emerge.

I also am trying to understand better how to effectively deepen our relationship. While we have always chosen to never consider any alternative to staying married we have also not enjoyed the depth and richness to the extent that we know should be a part of our relationship. I know that I had a great deal of baggage and spiritual confusion that I brought into this relationship and I realize that my wife had her share as well. That is certainly not unusual, but it is what God wants to heal in His desire for our marriage to reflect more completely the wonderful relationship that is enjoyed by the Trinity in heaven. I want to go much deeper in my own healing journey and learn what it means and what it looks like to truly live from my heart and to nurture and cherish and feed the heart of my wife like God desires to do for me.

As I thought about how our brain functions as illustrated by the computer analogy, some insights began to emerge. In Craig's illustration our brain is like the hard drive in a computer that is segmented into two sides separated by a firewall. The two sides of our brain – mind and heart – in many respects are like parallel recorders that store all the experiences we have in life. But because they view reality so very differently, what they perceive and record in the same experience are vastly different and sometimes almost unrecognizable by the other.

The left brain, the most familiar part to most of us, records the information, the data and facts and maybe pictures along with how they relate to our beliefs and ideals. It has intellectual opinions about those memories and indexes them according to some system of which I am not quite yet sure about.

The right brain, or the heart, also records information, possibly much more information than the left brain, during each experience that we pass through. But unlike the left brain, the right stores it according to how it makes us feel. The memories are indexed by the emotion associated with that memory. This part of our brain also has opinions about experiences but they are emotion-based opinions and are often not rational or explainable. Even more important, included in our emotional opinion about an experience is information relating to our perceived identity and value at a very deep level that is usually sub-conscious. But the compilation of these identity opinions from our various emotional experiences create a very deep sense of who we really think we are whether or not it coincides with the beliefs about ourself in the left brain.

It seems to me that the left and right brain have parallel or mirror functions that approximate each other and potentially can compliment each other when they are not in severe conflict about their opinions. Both sides store information about the same memories, though from very different perspectives. Both sides have opinions about our identity, though much of the time they are also quite different. And both sides seem to have something that is called our will, though they may be exercised or stimulated in different ways. That is why when we go to exercise our will we are sometimes confused with the effectiveness or outcome.

I think that ideally our will has roots in both sides of our brain (sort of like the description of the Tree of Life in heaven with roots on both sides of the River of Life). We are quite familiar with the exercise of our will intellectually and cognitively. But we are also often aware of a seeming sabotage of our will by some mysterious impulses that weaken and divert it from what our mind desires to do. This is because the part of our will that draws its strength from our right brain or heart is not in alignment with what our left brain or mind has decided it wants to do.

We often react to this problem by trying to force our left brain decisions onto our behavior by simply bypassing our right brain since it does not seem to want to cooperate. We come up with all sorts of behavior modification techniques to force ourselves to live according to our left brain ideals, most of which tend to more and more isolate our heart and right brain from its proper place in being the power source for real living.

We were originally designed by God to live from our heart, not primarily from our head or left brain. The passion for life which is the fuel that we are designed to operate on, is based in the right brain and is the only fuel that will successfully connect our hearts in the kind of bonds with other hearts that cannot be broken. But sin has found an insidious way of defeating this marvelous synergistic setup that God created. It breaks into our heart, especially in our formative years, and implants virus programs in the form of lies that are embedded into very emotion-intensive memories in our right brain. This usually takes place during events full of emotion or trauma and often through abuse or abandonment.

The effect of this is that every time we experience anything that arouses a similar emotion for the rest of our life, that virus program is activated and quickly replicates itself into the storage of each new experience and memory. Thus in every succeeding memory there is a chain of lies hidden in the right brain that distort our self-perception as well as our perception of what God is like. These virus-lies provoke very strong negative emotions that display themselves externally in various ways that are very disruptive to our relationships and the life that God wants for us. They also create an atmosphere of blame so that the real identity of the virus can be avoided. This blame can either be directed at others who we perceive are the cause of our negative emotions or they can be turned inward to reinforce our feelings of low self-worth.

The typical protocol for dealing with these lies is to run a virus-check program and see what viruses show up. But the problem is that when the left brain runs a virus check it only has access to the left brain half of those memories and so the virus scan can only check the left brain database. If we have been working diligently to clean out our cognitive belief system and get a correct information in our left brain we will often come up with a clean slate after a virus check and think that we don't have a problem. But at the same time we also cannot avoid the fact that each time we are faced with an event that touches that trigger that the effects of a virus become quite evident. So it becomes very discouraging to repeatedly run virus checks over and over only to come up with little or nothing that apparently needs fixing.

Because these lies are in the right brain memories and seldom found in left brain memories, they are completely immune to extraction even when they may be identified and partially exposed through left brain tools. We can try all we want to delete them or mask them or counteract their effects in our lives, but they will still remain to torture us and make fools of us every time we enter another experience that elicits that emotion.

At this point we often resort to either giving up and declaring that we are a hopeless case and just giving ourselves over to wherever our emotions take us, or we launch into applying all sorts of patching programs to try to fix or discipline our external symptoms so they do not appear so objectionable. As Craig Hill puts it, we believe that the problem lies in the application programs instead of the deeper systems so we work very hard to get updates and fixes for each individual program that malfunctions believing that the problem is isolated to those particular applications. This may make us look and function better for a time, but it is only temporary and is not the answer that God wants to supply for us.

The only real solution to our problem, which really lies at the root of our sin problem, is to be healed from the lies that are deeply embedded in our hearts that cause us to pervert our natural responses and cause us to feel and act in distorted, sinful ways in reaction to incoming experiences and stimuli. It does no good to follow the common religious approaches of labeling the external reactions as the base sin problem and struggling through all sorts of ways to manage, suppress, self-discipline or even live in denial of these symptoms. The core problem is the lies that remain embedded in our right brain memories that work to twist and distort our perceptions of our real identity and work even more to darken our picture of how God feels about us. These virus-lies in our right brain are out of reach of any attempts by left brain virus programs to eliminate and dislodge them.

I have observed that a growing number of ministries throughout the world are learning that the only real and effective solution for this problem is to bring our hearts into the presence of the original Designer of our computer and allow Him to run a proprietary virus program on our right brain hard drive, bringing to our consciousness the identity of these embedded lies. He only does this with our full permission for He is very jealous of our freedom to choose what we want for our own life. For real love can only exist in the atmosphere of complete freedom, and what God wants most is our unforced love in response to His love for us.

When we allow Him full access to our right brain/heart, the most vulnerable and frightening part of our brain, He is faithful to always reveal where the root problem lies. If we are then willing to recognize, acknowledge the presence of these lies and take responsibility, He again awaits our permission and request to take the next step of removing and replacing them. If we submit to His authority and give Him our permission He will then extricate the lie and replace it with what is called “experiential” truth, or truth that is perfectly designed to fit into that place in our right brain memory that was previously occupied by the lie. In reality it is the very truth that was supposed to be there in the first place but was preempted by the insertion of the lie through deception, abuse or violence.

When that deepest root lie is replaced with truth a most startling thing happens in our right brain. Not only does that memory now contain peace and calm as the emotions associated with that formerly painful memory, but all the other memories that were infected with the same virus throughout all of our life are now suddenly free from the replicated virus and are also filled with peace and calm. Furthermore, from now on whenever we experience circumstances that formerly ignited the triggers linked to this virus we find to our joy and amazement that those triggers are no longer in operation and the compulsive emotions and reactions that we are so familiar with are no longer in control of our life. When the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!

This is the type of ministry that I want to be involved in and that I want to experience much more myself. There are many variations of this to be found in different ministries in place today. Some of them are specialized for certain situations like marriages, individuals or certain classes of problems. But the underlying principle is the same if they are operating faithful to what God has designed for our salvation.

Salvation comes from a Latin word which means to heal, to make whole again. What I have just described is God's method for making us whole again so that we can return to our original design of reflecting the image of God Himself. The more healing we experience in this way the more our lives will naturally exude the perfume of God's beauty and loveliness. As our lives become more attractive and whole more people will become hungry to experience the healing and restoration what we are experiencing. God's reputation will be glorified and He will be able to bring healing to even more lives. That is what true evangelism is supposed to be about; I believe that this is what true, effective evangelism should look like.

I want to see more clearly what my Father is doing and learn to imitate and cooperate with whatever that is (John 5:19). Living from my heart by watching for what God is doing with the eyes of my heart precludes or propels me far beyond a life based on formulas and multiplied, rigid rules. It does not mean that rules and principles not longer apply or are no longer true, but it means that the driving force of my life will be the increasing presence of the passion of God burning like a fire in my bones and the guiding force of my life will be the leading of the Holy Spirit that will always lead me in harmony with the Law, which is simply an external, left brain description of what life will look like when we live like God from our heart.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

To Pursue or Not Pursue

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, "BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." (Romans 9:30-33)

These statements, like many others in this chapter, produce some intense questions in my mind that I ask God to explain to me. I find that when I face my questions that want to arise out of my uneasiness instead of looking for quick pat canned answers that the results are much more enriching.

The surface reading of these verses seem to somewhat imply again that maybe God is arbitrary like so many claim Him to be based on their reading of this chapter. But what I am starting to see more clearly here is a good example of the difference between living from the heart or living focused on the externals in a left-brain religion. Even in my own experience I have noticed that many of the people who feel genuine and real to me (a spirit-perceived thing) are often not necessarily very religious. Of course I have grown up in a culture where that is immediately labeled as dangerous and suspicious, but I now realize that much of that thinking comes from a fear-based religion and is not in harmony with the Spirit of God's kingdom.

The real children of God, as Paul makes quite clear earlier in this chapter, are not defined by the group or family they belong to but by their internal relationship and response to the voice of God in their soul. And the external results of listening to those inner promptings will often look very different than the prescribed external performances that religious people demand to be seen in the life. Here Paul is once again stepping on the toes of prejudice of all religious people in stating openly that those who are found to have “righteousness” – whatever that is – are not necessarily those who appear to be the most religious. Because what we have been trained to view as correct external behavior and religious correctness is riddled with subtle deceptions that keep us from seeing people the way God sees them.

As I look at these verses some semantic questions come up as usual for me to explore. I notice that both descriptions here – the ones describing Gentiles and Jews – talk about pursuing. But the Gentiles do not pursue and yet they actually get results that the Jews, who do pursue, were working very hard to achieve but fail to enjoy. This is another good example of God's upside-down kingdom according to the way we view things. But in fact it is our perspective that is actually upside-down which makes us only think that God's ways are seemingly reversed. It is our own paradigms that have to be changed and our own assumptions and prejudices that need to be released before we can begin to enjoy the synchronization with God and His people that we were designed to enjoy.

Another question that arises again for me relates to the real definition of the word “righteousness”. This has been a lifelong question that refuses to be satisfied easily. There are far too many simplistic and confusing explanations out there about this word and I insist on keeping my mind open to understand more clearly what the Bible really means when it uses this word. It has been one of the most confusing and almost obscure words for me all of my life partly because, I suspect, it has been abused so badly and particularly because the living examples of people who supposedly demonstrated it in their lives produced such mixed messages to the right brain.

Looking at these verses with my formula-happy left brain (which is not always a counter-productive exercise) I notice that there are certain ingredients in both of these descriptions but that show up in different ways in each “equation”. There is the element of “pursuit”. Then there is the results of that pursuit, though the word is different for each which I find very significant. Maybe that is a description of the outcome of the formula. Then there is the elements of “righteousness” and “faith”. I notice that there is an extra ingredient in one of the equations – “law” and “works”. What that extra element seems to result in is the production of something called a “stumbling stone” which prevents them from fully grasping the very thing they are working so hard to get. By implication it is stated that they experience the emotion of “disappointment” as a result.

So how do all of these pieces fit together? Well, I am again out of time, but if you would like to comment or participate feel welcome to join me in my journey through Romans.

(next in series)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Real Sin of Sodom

What was the real sin of Sodom?

Most people's immediate reaction when the word Sodom is mentioned is to assume that the sin they were destroyed over was homosexuality. In fact, that belief is so pervasive and long-standing that the word Sodomite is used to describe a homosexual. But what does the Bible say – not what our assumptions have been?

I was a bit surprised as I compiled the following list from perusing through many of the verses that refer to Sodom throughout the Bible.

Hypocrisy – lots of religion, pleasant religion, but not connecting with God.

Committing of adultery and walking in falsehood (adultery meaning more than just physical).

Not valuing what is really sacred.

Becoming cruel.

Immature leaders who attack the righteous and the mature.

Symbolic Sodom loathed her husband and children.

Lack of hospitality.

Arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.

Those who have despised the oath by breaking the covenant.

Seared conscience – are not bothered by other's sin.

Failing to care for the widow, orphan and stranger.

Indulging in gross immorality and going after strange flesh.

By dreaming, defiling the flesh, rejecting authority, and reviling angelic majesties.

It is rather interesting that very little of the Bible's descriptions of the problems of Sodom and the surrounding cities have to do with homosexuality, even though that is almost exclusively what we associate with it today. I think this is strong evidence of another major blind spot in Christianity in this area. It is so popular to bash homosexuals and “Sodomites” today in Christian circles but it looks to me like most of the sins that God found so offensive in Sodom are sins that are quite overlooked or minimized in the minds and lives of most Christians.

It is just as Isaiah said previously: "Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah." (Romans 9:29 NIV)

It is just like the schemes of Satan to deceive us into thinking that if we are not homosexual then we are not in danger of the judgments that fell on Sodom and Gomorrah. While we quietly support or join the obnoxious voices of self-righteous critics who loudly denounce “homos” and “queers”, doing everything in their power to heap shame and condemnation on them, it will be found in the light of heaven that those who join the accuser in his spirit of condemnation are in reality many times more guilty of the real sins that shut down the party in Sodom.

This statement comes in the context of addressing religious prejudices and pride that blind people to the truth about what it means to be righteous and the truth about how God views people. If we want to experience the joy of real righteousness and live a life of faith and intimacy with the heart of God, we will have to take seriously the messages of warning about the real sins of Sodom and not hide behind ignorant complacency or pretentious piety.

If one takes the time to review the original story of Sodom and the surrounding culture with a new paradigm of truth, it will be seen that the spirit of inhospitality, selfishness and living for self-gratification at the expense of others was far more central to the problems of Sodom than was the outward symptoms of homosexuality. Romans 1 makes it clear that homosexuality is simply a symptom of suppressing the truth about God, not a root cause in and of itself. And if we are really honest, all of us – and particularly Christians – have suppressed a great deal of truth about God. It may be that our resultant symptoms look quite different than those we condemn, much more like those described in chapter 2. But most things we focus on as being “sin” are really symptoms of sin. For sin at its essence is clinging to lies about our loving heavenly Father who created us to live in vital and intimate connection with His heart and in unselfish harmony with each other. When we abandon that life-giving relationship in favor of independence from our only Source of life we begin to experience more and more of the symptoms that are commonly viewed as sin.

But keeping our attention focused on trying to suppress, manipulate, avoid or regulate symptoms does little to nothing to heal the cause of those symptoms. The people of Sodom had rejected that vital connection with God even though they lived amidst some of the most luxurious blessings of God on the face of the whole planet.

In looking at a map of that region I am confident that before the upheaval of Sodom's destruction that the Jordan river flowed all the way to the Red Sea and that now-desert landscape was then rich and luxuriant with the most productive land in all the earth. Genesis 13:10 states that at that time the valley through there was well watered and like the garden of the Lord. I would suppose that this refers to the Garden of Eden or something similar. In any case, it was almost completely opposite of anything seen there today.

After the destruction of Sodom and the surrounding territories, which I believe was at least partially an eruption of some kind of volcanic activity, the natural flow of the Jordon was cut off, the surrounding countryside was ruined from all the acidic elements spewed up from the eruption and the following years produced what is now the Dead Sea and the arid, barren landscapes that dominate that region.

What is the message in Romans 9:29? What is the resemblance that we would have to them if it were not for the “seed” or remnant that the Almighty has left us? Is it the results of the destruction of those cities that we would look like or is it the culture and problems and way of thinking and living that allowed that destruction to take place?

What is the “seed” or “remnant” that God has left us? What is the important lessons that we need to learn from the warnings of Sodom? Why did Paul place this quotation at this place in the flow of his letter to the Romans?

(next in series)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Taking Heed to My Spirit

As I am going through some of the familiar emotions and experiences that are somewhat unique to holidays I am trying to be more observant as to what is going on inside myself and learn how to better respond to typically triggering situations. I am hoping that maybe I am maturing enough and have learned enough about how to act like myself to maybe be able to have a different response and potentially different outcomes this year than what usually happens. That is not to say that there is not enormous pressure to react and fall into the same rut and routine and role that has been ingrained in my family for many years. Many of the same triggers and assumptions are still in place and unfortunately still have a great deal of influence inside of me. But I do not want to go on being a pawn in the hands of the false gods that have ruled inside of me for so many decades. I want freedom to become a reality enough that it becomes attractive to others who observe a difference in my attitude and actions.

Today's reading from My Utmost was a perfect fit for my current circumstances right now and one that I need to maybe even frame and hang on my wall where I could read it quite regularly. It addresses probably the weakest area of my life that I struggle with and that God has been working to shore up and repair for many years – my generational inheritance of a negative spirit and a fault-finding, critical view of others.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt. Psalm 123:3.

The thing of which we have to beware is not so much damage to our belief in God as damage to our Christian temper. “Therefore take heed to thy spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.” The temper of mind is tremendous in its effects, it is the enemy that penetrates right into the soul and distracts the mind from God. There are certain tempers of mind in which we never dare indulge; if we do, we find they have distracted us from faith in God, and until we get back to the quiet mood before God, our faith in Him is nil, and our confidence in the flesh and in human ingenuity is the thing that rules.

Beware of “the cares of this world,” because they are the things that produce a wrong temper of soul. It is extraordinary what an enormous power there is in simple things to distract our attention from God. Refuse to be swamped with the cares of this life.

Another thing that distracts us is the lust of vindication. St. Augustine prayed—‘O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.’ That temper of mind destroys the soul’s faith in God. ‘I must explain myself; I must get people to understand.’ Our Lord never explained anything; He left mistakes to correct themselves.

When we discern that people are not going on spiritually and allow the discernment to turn to criticism, we block our way to God. God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.

Chambers, Oswald: My Utmost for His Highest : Selections for the Year. Grand Rapids, MI : Discovery House Publishers, 1993, c1935, S. November 23 (emphasis mine)

As I read this my mind immediately connected with an observation that became clear to me yesterday that is more evident when people get together for holidays. I have observed that when there is extended time together (or even alone sometimes) when there is little to do and it seems we are simply waiting for the “big event” to happen, like a big meal or opening presents or..., that the down-time creates a sense of uneasiness, boredom and a feeling of irritation begins to grow inside that becomes an atmosphere that is ripe for increased conflict between loved ones. This is harder to notice because the external reasoning for getting together is ostensibly to share more love and affection for one another through the traditions and routines of a holiday. But ironically the holidays that we suppose are going to enrich our relationships too often become flash points of unresolved tension and opportunities for new misunderstandings to create dissension and pain in our relationships.

This aspect about holidays has led me over the years to almost dread them myself. On the one hand I deeply crave time together with those I want to deepen my love with but at the same time this repeated experience of potential conflict and pain makes me afraid. Some people's solution to this problem is to fill the time with all sorts of planned activities so that there is reduced time for conflict. That may work to some extent and may even be helpful to a point, but it also can be a means of trying to control those around us against their will or be a means of filling the time with lots of shallow externals that allow us to hide from the deeper issues and fail to truly deepen our bonds of affection.

When I read today's Utmost I realized that this is one of those “tempers of mind” that distracts us from God. His Spirit is present during these times to mediate and bring about reconciliation, which is the special gift that God wants us to experience if we will pay attention to the condition of our spirit and ask for His intervention. I long for deeper internal bonds of love with my family and those God is bringing into my life. I am tired of being a source of pain and negative feelings to those around me. I am tired of this heavy weight of instant fault-noticing that my mind has been wired to use in viewing others. I want a different outlook renewed in the image of heaven that notices the good things about others first, instead of after strong effort and struggle. I want to have a humble, forgiving, accepting, caring spirit that feels natural instead of feeling like I have to force myself to think that way.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NRSV)

God, I choose to cooperate with this work of Yours in me. Make Your work of reconciliation more clear in my mind and fill me with a spirit of gratitude and appreciation for who You really are and what You are doing. Help me to live in Christ and demonstrate more openly the effects of Your reconciliation in my life and spirit and relationships. Teach me how to be a reconciler myself drawing others to Your magnetic love for all of us.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Only the Remnant

What, if any, is the problem with believing that God is arbitrary?

Some of us object to the idea that God “uses” some people to be the “bad guy” and seemingly forces them to fill the role of being the counterpart to make Him look good. But do we have the same problem when it comes to the next part where it appears that He arbitrarily accepts people to be His children who were not considered the “favored ones” by His “chosen people” on earth?


The Bible explicitly states repeatedly that only a remnant will be saved. This idea of a remnant is very appealing to many small groups of people who wish to style themselves as the remnant and arrange any number of proof texts to support that claim, some more convincingly than others. How can we know if our claims of being the true remnant are any more valid than the next group? How can we be so certain that we are not victims of our own intense desire to the favored ones of God while deceiving ourselves into believing that very thing in the process?

Self-deception is so insidious because it is so imperceptible. When a I am self-deceived I will have an extremely hard time coming to realize it because all my lines of reasoning and thinking is geared toward defending my position. So if most of the information coming into my mind is employed in defending my claim that my select group is the remnant and all conflicting data is filtered out or rationalized away, it becomes nearly impossible for me to ever admit that maybe I am not all that I claim to be.

I believe that this is where the real problem becomes exposed, where I am not learning to live from my heart but am only living an intellectual religion, thriving on ever-increasing knowledge about God and the Bible but failing to engage my heart and emotions and passionately seeking for a deeper intimacy in a dynamic love affair with Jesus.

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28, 29 NAS95)

Not as if we were able by ourselves to do anything for which we might take the credit; but our power comes from God; Who has made us able to be servants of a new agreement; not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter gives death, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6 BBE)

It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63 NRSV)

The concept of remnant is in contrast to the idea of strength by numbers. As humans we naturally gravitate toward the idea that when an increasing number of us agree about something or some system of belief then we must be right. Even when we claim to not go agree with that mentality it still infects our thinking anyway. We feel more and more confident as our church swells in numbers while at the same time criticizing other churches that grow faster than ours. We want to believe that we are right, that God is on our side and that our beliefs are correct in contrast to everyone else who disagrees with us.

God reveals that only a small number of people will make up the group that will be “the chosen”, receive salvation and live in harmony with His requirements. But it seems that the majority of religious people believe that they are included in that number and this thinking often causes them to look upon those outside their select group with some degree of contempt. How can we feel so smug that our spin on Scripture is the right one and that our claim to being the chosen remnant is the one that is described in the Bible? What is the real basis for our assurance that we need not question our identity as the remnant? Are we willing to challenge our assumptions and examine our motives and take another closer look at what the Bible is really saying about this “remnant”?

I believe that one thing we need to do is to be careful to look at the context in which references to the remnant are placed in the Bible. It is far too easy to lift select verses and fit them together to produce convincing “proofs” that we fit the description and that everyone should agree with us. I am not saying that every claim of being the true remnant is false, but truth is not afraid of intense examination and healthy, critical evaluation. Truth is consistent and only becomes more appealing and settled when looked at from many angles under close scrutiny. I would like to see why Paul used this reference to “the remnant” in the context of my study of this chapter and the context of the whole book of Romans. It may reveal some important insights that I need to understand in relation to my desire to be a part of the true “remnant that will be saved.”

First of all I notice that he talks about the remnant in direct contrast to numbers like the sand of the sea. This is in reference to the thinking of Israelites and whatever that reasoning involved in this respect.

I also notice that the context touches strongly on the religious prejudice of Israelites and their exclusive mentality as being the only chosen ones of God. In relation to that the repeated emphasis throughout this whole book is the need to understand and live the life of faith in relation to God in contrast with a religious life of focus on the Law and performance and rules.

The following verse brings up a very interesting reference to Sodom and Gomorrah that I am learning may be a source of misunderstanding by most people. I have been learning quite recently that the assumptions we have about Sodom and Gomorrah may completely miss the truth about the true sin of those people and therefore miss the application that needs to be learned for ourselves. Quite possibly our false assumptions about the real problems exhibited in those cities has become a blind spot so that we miss the real message God desires us to understand when we are warned about not repeating their sins.

(next in series)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pride and Prejudice

Root causes produce symptoms which in turn become cause for more symptoms which in turn become cause for...

This is one reason it is often difficult to identify a real root cause in our heart. It is not too hard sometimes to look back a little bit to see that there is something deeper behind our current problems or driving our present emotions, but then we often settle for that first discovery being the original underlying issue instead of continuing to question and allow the Spirit to extend the trail back even further to unmask the real root cause. Maybe that is some of what I am starting to see here in Romans 9.

It seems to me that the end of this chapter is getting down to the deeper roots of the problems of religious addiction and prejudice. We should not think for a moment that this was a problem unique to the Jews of Jesus' day and we don't have much of that problem ourselves. Just because our symptoms are different because of our culture and lifestyle, does not in any way detract from the seriousness of our sickness. Anyone who finds themselves depending on any kind of performance whatsoever to impress or influence God's actions or feelings toward them without a growing abiding trust in His consistent love and passion for them is suffering under the illusions of this addiction. Romans was written to help us see our real problems so that we too can become free and get our priorities corrected, so we can learn to live the real life of joy and peace that we were designed to enjoy in the presence of God.

Here is what I am seeing expressed in the span of this chapter.

First, Paul identifies his kinsmen, the Israelites, whom he has great desire for to see change and let go of their prejudices that are keeping them from experiencing the goodness of God. He reminds them that their religion and people-group was the one that God had selected to be the channel for revealing Himself to humanity and they were gifted with all the “good stuff”.

Next he begins to make the bold assertion that in fact, the only real Israelites are those who are living a life of faith. And faith is believing the real truth about God and responding to His goodness and cooperating with His way of doing things (I'm not talking about religious works). Even though the Jews thought they were doing what God wanted they had failed to allow their hearts to connect with Him but only offered Him their externals. They were trying to make their outside look good while clinging to their independence and selfishness and control on the inside. So Paul claims here that not all Jews are true Israelites and the composition of the real Israel is based on a different criteria than what the Jews were used to using.

It is from this point that Paul launches into the stories that create so much confusion in our minds about how God relates to us and that make Him appear arbitrary. But we must remember the point that Paul is trying to enforce here and not lurch into making opposite assumptions about God due to our own misconceptions and bad previous experiences that we bring to the table. Otherwise we will miss the incredible blessing and insights that lay just beneath the surface waiting to shock us with the truth that God is much better than we ever suspected. I have been unpacking some of these discoveries over the past few days in my digging through this chapter and now I am starting to see this even bigger picture.

It is also helpful to remember the context of Paul's own life and experience in helping us to understand some of the things he mentions here. When Paul talks about vessels in this chapter he remembers God's specific reference to himself as a “chosen vessel” during his own conversion in Damascus. When he talks about Jewish obsessions with keeping the rules to become righteous he is speaking from years of personal experience in doing that very thing himself. When talking about making a gigantic paradigm shift from living an external-oriented religious life to being transformed on the inside into a compulsive love-slave of his Savior, he is a living demonstration of what he is talking about.

Toward the end of chapter 9 he moves even deeper to expose the underlying roots that powered much of the Jewish performance system. He begins to talk about an area of their thinking that was sure to inflame the outrage of most Jews and has similar effects on religious people today if they begin to understand what he is really saying. It is the idea that somehow God favors religious people – our group in particular – and has less love or favor for those who are outside that favored group.

Every time the Jews were confronted about this prejudice by any of God's messengers including the Son of God Himself they reacted with outrage and blindly succumbed to their feelings of resentment. When we find ourselves reacting to something with immediate and intense anger it is very often because we are unwilling to face the fact that our beliefs are not defensible by real truth. So we use anger and rage, force and intimidation to cover up the fact that our prejudices are really just a sham that we are unwilling to face and confess.

Paul puts his finger on this most sensitive issue when he explicitly talks about the various references from the Word of God that show God's real disposition toward humanity and the role of the Jewish people. The prophecies had declared centuries before that God fully intended to embrace all kinds of people Jews and non-Jews alike as His children. The things Paul writes in these last few verses are nothing short of extreme blasphemy in the minds of most Jews but will also have the same effect on us today when it exposes our own religious bigotry. We may have changed the words and labels but we still indulge in the same sorts of bigoted thinking and exclusive behavior in the way we treat people who are not part of our church or our club or our country.

Paul identifies this as a stumbling block for anyone who trips over being religious instead of believing in the real God of compassion, love and truth. All we have to do to apply this to our own situation is to substitute the name of our clique in place of Jews or similar references in this passage, and the name of those outside our clique in place of Gentiles. Then we will begin to feel the squirm inside us as our discomfort begins to reveal our own narrow, selfish beliefs and our notions of the exclusiveness of God. Even his references to the idea of “remnant” in these verses has given us another title to parade as a means of thinking that God favors our group over everyone else.

It is very true that only a remnant will be saved just as God told the Jews of old. But for us to simply assume that we are that remnant and are favored above all others by God is to blindly place ourselves in the very position and attitude that the Jews in Jesus' day held and that Paul is exposing here. Indeed, a remnant will be saved. But we must look carefully to see what the real identifying marks of the remnant are instead of just assuming that our simplistic spin on prophecies give us the inside scoop on the favor of God. We have focused for too long on the external symptoms of the remnant and have largely overlooked the fact that the remnant are a people who are primarily those connected at the heart level to the heart of God and are living a life of faith even when they didn't realize they were doing so – who did not pursue righteousness. (9:30)

(next in series)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Random Thoughts on Force and Maturity

Here's a thought that condensed in my mind the other day while I was driving.

Force is the lethal ingredient that poisons otherwise life-giving formulas/principles of God's creation and design.

For instance, when any amount of force is used to coerce someone to trust you, the eventual result may be anger. In my experience this led me to become easily angered if someone does not trust me. In looking back wondering where this illogical anger comes from I realize that authority figures in my life have used force to try to get me to trust them. In modeling this to me I became wired in some way to do the same to others.

Over the past few days I have been collecting various ideas that mesh together from what I am learning from various sources. It may not be well polished but is simply and expression of what I am currently learning.

Force and anger usually go hand in hand.

Mixing force with otherwise benign elements contaminates them and distorts our picture of God.

I think that somewhere in the mix here there is also shame involved, but I don't know how much. It probably varies depending on the person and the circumstance. But part of force is the use of shame if someone does not do what we want them to do and then some people react to shame with anger.

Anger is a symptom that things are not as we want them to be. What we want may or may not be legitimate, but nevertheless we are out of balance and the resulting tension is described as anger.

Anger is experienced and expressed in many different ways and often goes unnoticed for a long time even by the person experiencing it. But anger that is left unresolved creates a lot of resistors in our soul and those resistors produce heat that creates more and more problems in our life.

Lies are like resistors. They act as distorting lenses that mess up our vision both of ourselves and of others. Lies very often lie at the root of anger and usually we blame others for our anger instead of looking inside and taking responsibility for what is causing the heat inside of us that we call anger. But as long as we look outside of ourselves for the cause of anger we cannot take ownership and responsibility for the resistors inside of us that need to be exposed and expelled so that we can experience true peace and rest.

Immaturity plays a big part in all of this. The more anger, force, shame etc. that we employ and indulge in the more immature we find ourselves to be. Unfortunately an immature person seldom can see their own immaturity and so they fail to see their need to change. They typically point to those around them as the cause of the issues in their life instead of recognizing that it is really themselves that need to grow up more and perceive things differently. It is almost like a catch 22 – the immature do not have enough perspective to see immaturity and so they feel no need to change. They can only see immaturity in those less mature than themselves which often is not very much because they are so far down in maturity already there is not much below them.

The more mature a person becomes the easier it becomes for them to recognize and acknowledge immaturity and the need to grow and change. They get an expanded picture of reality and they can see that they have a lot of weak areas that need to be challenged and developed. They also become more and more tolerant of others and more patient with those who are less mature because they see how difficult it is for one to see their own blind spots. Duh!

Seeing immaturity in others is often a good way to begin to see it in ourselves if we are willing to shine the light back into our own thinking and logic. When we see others demonstrating immature behavior that really irritates us quite likely there is a similar area of immaturity within our own lives or it would not be so irritating to us. But if we understand this principle and are willing to apply it to our lives instead of focusing on the problems of others it can become an opportunity to begin to see our blind spots and they are not so hidden anymore. Maybe that is one form of accountability when you don't have anyone else who you can relate to that will hold you accountable in a positive way.

That sort of leads me back to the original issue of force. Accountability is another example of something that can be very easily poisoned by the use of force in even small doses. Force against someone else's will can very quickly destroy trust which is the crucial ingredient for a successful accountability relationship. But it is also true that one could be accused of using force when a person being held accountable does not like what they are hearing and wants to deny or reject it instead of growing through it. When we resist the process of maturing we often blame it on others using force against us when it is actually us using force to resist their efforts to help us grow up more.

The healthy process of maturing requires trust in another person's perspective and experience even when it does not feel good to us. If we rebel against everything that makes us uncomfortable what we are really doing is insisting on remaining immature. Then we have to justify our immaturity with all sorts of explanations and convoluted reasoning that is really a means of self-deception which is very eagerly assisted by the agents of evil who are very skilled at helping us along this path. But the results are that our relationships with others remained strained and we fail to grow along with those around us who do not want to remain at lower levels of maturity. Often it forces a wedge between friendships which ultimately result in fractures and breakdowns altogether if we insist on remaining in our self-justifying immaturity. Of course we will likely blame others for not relating properly to us but the real fact is that we are still refusing to face our own inner issues and grow through them because we are afraid of the pain of growth. Ultimately we are responsible for our own issues first.

It has been said that the only thing we are afraid of is how we are going to feel. Maybe what we need is a larger vision of reality so that we can become more attracted to how good we will feel after we grow through the pain and live more fulfilled lives in a higher stage of maturity.

A very common problem is that we try to focus attention of other people's problems while not facing our own. While it is true that God may use us to help others deal with their issues many times, we will be incapable and not credible if we are stonewalling on the same issues in our own life. We need the community of faith and others who are more mature to help us see the areas where we are failing to grow or recognize and face our own blind spots.

Maturity in many respects is learning to see life from a larger perspective while at the same time discovering our true identity and then learning how to act like ourselves (our true identity) under all circumstances and in all emotions. Learning how to act like yourself means that you do not act any differently when you are in any emotion than you would if you were not in that emotion. Which also means that you are not living in reaction to your emotions or to what others do or say to you but you respond from the context of your true identity no matter how you feel.

A person who reacts all the time is often manipulated by others even though they may not believe that or may resent the notion. They are also people who generally seek to control others using similar methods but again are unaware that they are doing this and often strongly deny it. But a person who lives under the slavery of emotions and reactions is not living in freedom and cannot experience true peace. They are infected with the poison of force. There is a lot of resistance in their life and consequently a lot of heat is often generated as well.

A person who is growing and maturing is learning the difference between reacting and responding. To respond to a circumstance or tense situation that ignites our emotions is to exercise our power of higher thinking and utilize our kingly power of choice to override our impulses to react. This requires the context of more settled thinking, a reasonable good realization of who we really are – our design for which we were created – and a confidence and assurance of our value and worth, especially in the eyes of God. It does not mean living a left-brained oriented life based on rules and facts. We must develop a healthy balance of use of both sides our our being with our heart in its proper place of leadership. But we learn to separate or de-link emotions in such a way that they do not dictate what we choose. That is definitely not to say that we suppress or deny that we have emotions. In fact, it often means that we acknowledge them immediately and recognize them for what they are but also choose to remember who we really are outside of the influence of that emotion.

A person who depends on using force to get what they desire is an immature person who is acting like a spoiled child. They may conceal and use very polite and polished ways of forcing their own desires on others but their dependence on force is still a sign of weakness, fear and insecurity. This condition is not helped by imposing shame or heaping blame on the person – even if the person is ourself. It is healthy, however, to recognize the reality of our situation so that we can begin to seek help and deal with the roots of our insecurity and fears so that this symptom of trying to control behavior can begin to subside and we can begin to experience real peace, both within ourselves and in our relationships with others.

(for another post I just finished on similar ideas see November 2)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Passion from God's View

As I traveled last night I listened to a sermon that talked about the story of Saul on the road to Damascus and how Jesus introduced Himself to Saul. It really stimulated my mind and heart about many new things I had not thought of before and as I continued to ruminate about it this morning I realized how much it related to what I am studying in Romans 9. Interestingly that story is found in Acts 9, maybe not totally a coincidence.

Saul's passion was of great interest to the heart of God even though it was seriously misdirected. Because God looks on the heart much more than the outward appearance, even when the outward appearances included killing and terrorizing God's children, God saw tremendous potential in Saul that was revealing his true heart of passion for God.

When Jesus spoke to Saul on the road, He did not enforce the guilt and shame that Saul naturally felt when he realized that he had been fighting against the very God he thought he had been honoring. We might naturally think that God needed to make sure that Saul realized the extent of his rebellion before “letting him off the hook”. But God does not treat people that way. Guilt and shame and blame are all part of the kingdom of darkness and tools of the enemy that God does not employ against us. No, instead Jesus simply told him the next step to take in preparation for his inauguration.

After spending three days like Jesus in the heart of the earth in blindness and allowed to review his life and beliefs in light of his immense storehouse of intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures, Saul was sent a messenger, a brother from the very people he had been trying to persecute and kill to relay to him the vision, the true identity of Saul's heart to him. God “resurrected” Saul from his three days of darkness by casting for him a glorious vision of who he really was inside despite all the external activities that seemed to contradict those characteristics.

God cared deeply about Saul and had implanted the gift of passion into his heart before he was even born. God had put that there for him to use in the service of God and just because Satan had twisted the outlet of that passion to be used against the people of God did not thwart God's plans for Saul but actually brought even more glory to His reputation. Along with unusual intensity of passion Saul also had clear, sharp mental abilities and had filled his memory with enormous amounts of the Word of God. That too was in God's plans for him even though Satan had used that intellect through deception to be distorted and twisted in its applications.

When Paul later wrote that all things work together for good he was speaking from experience. And he was also speaking first hand when he talked about vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy in Romans 9. For part of the vision that Jesus related to Ananias for brother Saul was that he had been chosen to be a chosen vessel for Him. Up to that point in time Saul had been a vessel of wrath and had been hardening his heart like Pharaoh and suffering the increasing pain of doing so. He had been filled with the spirit like that of Ishmael, the first-born son of Abraham born of the flesh and full of pride and independence. Like Jacob he had been loved of God but instead of responding to and receiving that love he had been trying to earn it through works of the Law all of his life and methods of his own devising.

But God, who is full of mercy and because of His own passion for the heart of Saul allowed Saul to mature his evil plans only up to a certain point and when the time was right, when his heart was ripe, he revealed Himself to the amazement of Saul, He introduced Himself to the heart of Saul and, as they say, the rest is history. God had endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction – prepared by Saul himself. But now Saul, through the mercy of God, became Paul, a vessel of mercy. And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory. (Romans 9:23)

What can I say – what an incredible, awesome God we have! And if He is that kind and patient and persistent in His pursuit of the heart of one of the most ferocious persecutors of His church, surely He has something planted in my heart waiting to be exposed and used to make known the riches of His glory as well.

This causes me to think about something that right now is extremely politically unpopular. But I believe that we should pray for the eyes of heaven to see even religious fanatics from even such sources as Muslim cultures that the world considers terrorists. God sees things very differently than we do and if we insist on judging people using the world's paradigms we will end up protesting against God's apparent nonsense when He invites us to participate in capturing them for His service at most surprising times and in ways that may frighten us.

But if we are to be true followers of the radical God of love and patience and kindness that we learn about from the life of Saul/Paul, then we are going to have to look at others with radically different paradigms and begin to view others through the eyes of the Spirit of God instead of our fears and prejudices. The passion of those who claim to believe in God may just be the tip of the iceburg of something God intends to amaze the world with in the life of someone just like Saul, the terrorist of the early Christian church.

If you look further in the story of Saul you will notice the great reluctance and fear in the answer that Ananias gave to God when he was called to go lay his hands on Saul and heal him of his blindness. Ananias apparently thought Jesus had forgotten what Saul was like or maybe had confused his identity with someone else. It may appear almost ludicrous to us how Ananias was willing to argue with God about His plans for Saul, but are we not even more devoid of faith and hope and love in our unwillingness to view others in the light of heaven?

In the story of Saul it is seen later that when he tried to join himself with the leaders of the Christian church that their fears will still so intense that none of them were willing to trust the work of transformation in his heart that God had effected. It was only due to the bold faith of Barnabas and his courage to believe in the goodness and power of God that enabled him to come alongside of Saul and embrace his former enemy as a brother even when it was most unpopular. It was the open-minded spirit of this “son of encouragement”, which is what the name Barnabas means, that brought encouragement to the heart of Saul and opened the door for him to become accepted and received by the rest of the less-believing leaders. In fact, I personally believe that quite possible Barnabas had been praying for Saul for some time for God to intervene in the life the this archenemy of the church. Barnabas was willing to view Saul through the eyes of heaven instead of through the eyes of fearfulness and so God was able to use him to bring reconciliation and glory to the name of God.

I find it quite interesting that even though all of these men (and women) had been baptized with the Holy Ghost not that long before and had been speaking with boldness the truth about God and His amazing power to change lives, when faced with putting their own lives on display in this situation where their mouths were, so to speak, at least to this extent they were suddenly very reluctant to trust in God's unusual ways but instead still demonstrated the symptoms of fear. Fear is maybe the single most powerful element of the enemy that he uses against us to keep us away from experiencing the full life of faith, joy, love and fellowship that God wants for us.

These disciples were still growing in grace and still had a certain amount of fear that they needed to let go. I find it encouraging that even though they displayed such apparent lack of faith in His work in Saul's life that God was still in their lives and was using them in the power of His Spirit. But I find it even more encouraging to see the example of Ananias, the reluctant but willing messenger to embrace Saul in his darkness to bring him into fellowship with the people of God. And I am encouraged to see the example of the high-risk taker Barnabas who had a bigger picture of God who he believed to be well able to turn around a hard-nosed terrorist into a passionate worshiper of the One who is the essence of passion, Jesus Christ Himself.

As I think about these example of people that God delighted in and saw hidden potential in I am inspired with hope for myself. When I look inside there are times when I sense an immense reservoir of passion that has very strong barriers built around it. But every once in awhile some of that passion leaks out and sometimes it even feels confusing because it is so inconsistent with what I have been trained to be. But I believe that all passion originated with the God of passion and when the time is right and the heart is ripe God will step in and surprise everyone with His amazing grace and His unusual ways. For He does so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called.

(next in series)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Exclusiveness Theology Intro

As Gentile Christians we generally like to focus on the idea that God has embraced us as being part of His chosen people to replace the “chosen” status that the Jews formerly held. Depending on the theology you subscribe to, many still believe that the Jews are going to once again become “more chosen” than the rest of the Christians and they have built very elaborate scenarios around this kind of thinking, not the least of what is popularly known as “The Left Behind” series.

I do not wish to tackle these scenarios right now, but the issue of “chosenness” is one that has created a great deal of confusion and even intense persecution because of misunderstandings about what God is really like and how He relates to us. The last part of Romans 9 addresses this issue a great deal and there is much to learn here. It also sheds a useful light on the surrounding passages that I have been moving through over the past few days and weeks that I want to take time to explore further.

I think it is well known that Jews in the times of Jesus were very hung up on the idea of their supposed exclusive advantage with the emphasis on “exclusive”. They firmly believed that only the biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were of any notable consideration by God. With very few, and very carefully filtered exceptions (see Matt. 23:15) the Jews considered themselves to be the only breed on earth from which God would chose the saved. Therefore, in their minds the rest of the pagans and mixed breeds were considered to be hopeless and unsaveable and therefore objects of their scorn and, of course, the wrath of the Almighty.

But even within the Jewish community there was marked separation and distinctions in classes and factions of people who were considered to be more “holy” than others. This struggle to define one's self as being worthy of God's favor was a constant and public issue especially among the Pharisee's, Sadducee's and other teachers of the Law. Not unlike today, the “chosen” people of God were fracturing themselves into divisions that argued and split hairs over details of the righteousness of the Law that caused them to reject and revile anyone who did not agree with them. While they went to enormous lengths to be obedient to every rule in the Law and many more that they came up with themselves to protect the Law, the spirit that they possessed was the very opposite of the spirit of the Lawgiver Himself who showed up in their midst in human form to demonstrate to them the way God feels and acts when He comes into the arena of humanness.

In Romans, one of the groups that Paul is addressing and is identified in chapter 2 is the Jewish converts to Christianity who still carried some baggage from their past about righteousness by rule-keeping. We have developed our own version of this kind of thinking today that is nearly identical but without the biological ingredient. While righteousness is not the absence of obedience to God's laws, the tendency to think that keeping rules makes a person righteous is one of the lies of Satan that has to be exposed and corrected if we are to grow in grace and the true knowledge of God and the principles of life. Paul is also directly addressing the prejudice of the “exclusiveness mentality” that was not only still very prevalent in the minds of Jews back then but is also seen in many Christians today.

When we begin to think that we are quite sure we know who God is saving and who is going to be lost we are becoming deeply infected with this same poison that caused God to become divorced from His “marriage” to the Jews as a chosen nation. This was due to their rejection of His last attempt to reconcile the marriage in the person of Jesus His Son. When they killed off this last offer of mercy and subsequently began killing off His Spirit-empowered followers, God was forced to accept their final decision and the divorce became final. That does not mean that Jewish individuals cannot be part of the redeemed through faith, but they must now enter into that intimate relationship with God apart from any advantage formerly enjoyed as God's “chosen nation”. Under the new covenant (new marriage), those who make up the bride of Christ are from every class and people on the earth who accept the invitation of God to become intimate with Him and submit to being led by His Spirit.

How Paul explains this and the illustrations he uses in this chapter I believe will be very instructive as I further examine them. But due to lack of time again I will leave that for another day.

(next in series)