Random Blog Clay Feet: 2008
Feel free to leave your own comments or questions. If you would like to be in contact with me without having it published let me know in your comment and leave your email address and I will not publish that comment.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Vengeance or Lovingkindness

I have been observing for a number of months the sad saga of a dear friend who is the victim of a corrupt judicial system in another state. He has been held in prison much longer than permitted by law without a trial and has been subjected to abuse and deprivation under harsh conditions while one corrupt judge after another has manipulated the system to avoid allowing him the freedom he deserves. They have repeatedly ignored all of his requests for justice and accountability by the court and in the last report I received yesterday I heard they even laughed openly at the mention of God by my friend.

Their words echoed closely the sneering comments of Pharaoh in Egypt when Moses demanded freedom for God's people. When confronted with the authority of the God of heaven Pharaoh said, “Who is God that I should listen to Him?” This was almost the same comments heard during a very recent hearing for my friend. When my friend heard them say this he is said to have almost cried – but not for himself and the injustice he is enduring but for the people who are so hardened against God that they will sneer and laugh at Him openly and despise His authority.

But what alarmed me was a comment of the person relaying this information to me. They added that they were certain that God was going to be very angry with those people for scoffing at Him in this way and that they are in great danger because of their comments. I know that this long ordeal that has dragged on in one form or another for several years now has been a tremendous drain on this close friend and I feel great sympathy for everyone involved. But I also am aware of a deep reservoir of bitterness in the heart of the person who has been keeping me up to date on this situation. This comment about God being very angry with these godless, unjust abusers is reflective of the feelings of many people throughout the ages who have endured injustice at the hands of others. But what I am confronted with is this: what does it say about not only God and His attitude toward those who flaunt Him but about us when we so desperately want to believe in a God who gets very angry at people who make fun of Him or who are hurting us?

What I am starting to perceive is that many Christians may be using their belief in a sovereign God to be their vicarious agent of revenge for the injustices committed against them. Being a Christian, they may feel that it is inappropriate to seek revenge on their enemies directly, but the intensity of their anger and bitterness inside is unavoidable, so as an outlet of release for all their rage they use God as a secondary means of threatening those who clearly are demonstrating the characteristics of the enemy. They use talk of stern judgments and thrive on ideas of a very angry God thundering down punishments on those who are clearly in the wrong. This gives them a little bit of hope and comfort in their terrible situations in hopes that someday Someone all-powerful is going to step in and even the score and inflict the pain and suffering that we feel is due to all those who exploit us.

But again I ask, what does this say about the God that we claim to love and serve? How is it supposed to attract those who do not serve Him now to want to come to Him? What about those enemies who are so heartless and unjust – does our attitude of vicarious rage cause them to want to repent and seek God for healing?

It is nearly an unchallenged assumption on the part of many Christians that the main method of inducing God's enemies to repentance is to threaten them with severe judgments and eloquent descriptions of “the wrath to come” on them if they continue to follow their evil ways. And I am not suggesting for a moment that there is not terrible judgments and punishments in their future if they do not repent. But the real crux of this question is, do those judgments and punishments come directly from the hand of an angry, revenge-seeking, offended deity out to settle a score, or are those judgments and awful punishments part of the natural consequences of violated eternal principles that are unavoidable if we reject the protection of God's mercy and grace that have already long protected not only those who have openly despised Him but ourselves as well? Is it possible that all of us are just as deserving of damnation and vengeance as those who more openly live in violence and wickedness? Is our relative righteousness compared to theirs somehow an insulation for us against suffering the wages of sin like we sometimes wish upon them?

For the past few years I have grappled with this issue of a God who seems more reflective of our own evil cravings for revenge and a desire to inflict pain on our enemies than on some of the plainest statements of Scriptures showing God to be very different than what we like to imagine. Just a few days ago I discussed some of this with another friend who was very reluctant to listen to such ideas about God as I was sharing, preferring rather to stick with beliefs in a God who will someday commit His “strange act” as most theologians like to refer to it. It is commonly accepted that someday God will finally come around to apparently see things the way we see them and get even with all those who refuse to accept His forgiveness and love for them like we want Him to.

It is then added by some – to the great confusion of the whole idea – that He is going to do this while feeling great sadness and pain for what He is somehow forced to do to end the great controversy. But it is believed that there is no other option for Him, so to get rid of evil He is going to have to torture the rejectors of His mercy in flames of hell for some period of time. But the farther we get into these theories the stranger it becomes to our teachings of justice and mercy. Generally it is said that mercy simply is suspended or dispensed with at that point since it is no longer available to the lost. That somehow gives God license to kill and torture some of His children in revenge for all the evil that they have committed against Him and against those who have been saved.

But the more I have pondered this and studied this subject and prayed about it and listened to the Spirit of God, the more I find these doctrines and beliefs totally unacceptable and even blasphemous in my opinion. These are not just “strange acts” for the God that I have been coming to learn about over the past few years but are closer to the characteristics of the very enemy that He is seeking to defeat. For God to suddenly adopt some of the tactics and attitudes of Satan to finish off Satan would be an irony that could easily sow seeds for further questions about Him that could linger on throughout all eternity. Maybe it is a strange act for very different reasons than we suppose concerning that word.

I realize there is enormous pressure on people to embrace these kinds of ideas about God when they are suffering under oppression from evil men. But is this really the Christian's hope that we should be encouraging? And furthermore, is this the spirit that will attract those same enemies to want to repent and turn to God for salvation themselves? What kind of witness are we bearing for the God we claim to love and serve when we promote such emotionally charged ideas about Him? Are we really being faithful witnesses for God or might we be found guilty ourselves of violating the ninth commandment?

I think the quickest way to find answers to all of these questions about God and the way He feels toward those who violently oppose His will is to carefully consider the life and example of Jesus, particularly during the awful treatment He received from sinful men during His last hours at Calvary. What attitude did He display toward those who clearly were out of line with any notion of justice or mercy? How did He react when tortured and abused to death by the very ones that He had come to rescue? The primary mission of Jesus to this earth was to reveal to us just how God feels about us and the real truth about His heart. Jesus and the Father have absolutely no discrepancies in their attitudes towards sinners. So if we do not see Jesus condemning or craving revenge against those who mistreated Him, how can we justify our desires to use God as our agent of revenge against those who mistreat us?

This is a very hard teaching for Christians to accept or even consider most of the time. That is because it betrays into the light our fleshly desires for revenge and retaliation that are so unlike the real truth about God. Unfortunately, religion has too often sought to conform our ideas about God more into our own image than to seek to truly understand the revelations about God that have been somewhat obscured through the filters of human messengers. But the truth is still there to be seen by anyone who is willing to lay aside their preconceived prejudices and allow the Holy Spirit to warm their heart with the real truths about our heavenly Father that have been kept in mystery and darkness for long ages.

Imagine the chances of Saul of Tarsus becoming a Christian and challenging the whole world to take a serious look at God if the early believers had embraced these beliefs about God that are so commonly held today. If those believers had been more interested in revenge against all the horrors that Saul was putting them through than in obeying the instructions of Jesus to pray for and love their enemies, I don't think Saul would have had much of an attraction to joining with them after His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. But quite the opposite, I firmly believe that it was the intercessions of those very Christians that Saul was persecuting so violently and their Christ-like attitude in his face while he was trying to terrify and torture them that was the real source of the unavoidable pricks of conscience that Saul could never escape inside of his soul.

When Jesus exposed Himself to Saul on the road that day that turned his life totally around, it was not the first time that Saul had felt the strong persuasions and attractions of love and grace in his life. The constant witness of people who were choosing to act in the spirit of Jesus while he was abusing them was the most powerful weapon that could be used to disarm the lies that filled the mind of Saul. These repeated exposures to the presence of Jesus in the lives of His followers added to the convictions of the Holy Spirit reinforced by the prayers of Saul's enemies for Him, and this all became very painful for him as resisting them became a constant battle inside of his heart.

When Jesus showed up on that road, He was no stranger to Saul's mind by this point. Saul had long been hearing and resisting inwardly the sweet kindness and strange compassion of God in his soul that was so different than the stern, vengeful kind of God that Saul had grown up believing in. This idea of God as a merciful, forgiving, kind Father who treated people with infinite compassion and tenderness consistently was totally foreign to the religion that he had believed all his life. But it was the kindness of God that ultimately brought Saul to his knees in repentance, and nothing has changed in the years since that time.

I myself am just learning about this God and these truths are still seeping into my own thinking and perceptions. I too feel the pressure of wanting to endorse an angry, vengeful God when I am mistreated or witness horrible abuses of those I love. But I too must be reminded that the desires of my flesh will never bear truthful testimony about the true nature of God's feelings toward me or my enemies. God's ways are not our ways and God's thoughts are not our thoughts. I want to be transformed into the perfect image of God and not slip into the mistake of trying to form Him into my image.

O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting. (1 Chronicles 16:34) When I looked up this verse on my computer I found that this phrase occurs 46 times in the Bible. I have come to see it as something of an anchor for my faith. God's lovingkindness really is everlasting.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Purpose of Probation

What would be the problem caused by Jesus coming back before every person had made a final decision about which side they were on?

Discussions on this topic almost always focus on questions about the real meaning, timing and circumstances surrounding the “close of probation”. But what is the significance of this “close of probation” from God's perspective?

"Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy." (Revelation 22:11)

There is a lot of discussion and argument that revolves around how to get ready for this event. Most of the theories about preparing for Jesus' Second Coming and the “close of probation” generally center on perfecting “righteousness” in one's life which is generally assumed to mean eliminating all bad behavior. There are so many misconceptions about nearly all of the words and concepts in this debate that I don't want to get involved in that right here. What I want to focus on is an understanding that I have been coming to perceive, that the real issue here is the curing of both evil and righteousness. The completion of this curing process is extremely necessary to produce the iron-clad insurance that will prevent evil from ever rising again. And in my thinking, this is probably the core reason why it is so important for Jesus to tarry until every decision is fully cured, every character fully developed.

By curing, I am talking about the concept of maturing, developing, settling, like curing pickles in saltwater, not so much the idea of healing although that is an important part of what happens for those who are saved. This curing is more along the line of marinating something in a broth or juice so that the thing being marinated fully takes on the flavor of the liquid around it.

But the curing process is not just for the sake of the individual who is finally cured. It is part of a collective curing process whereby the whole universe becomes completely settled in its awareness of the inevitable results of following any other way but complete harmony with God's ways, the unbreakable principles of reality. This not only seals the hearts and minds of God's people on earth but seals all the intelligences of heaven. It also seals the hearts and minds of those who have chosen rebellion instead of repentance.

However, this sealing is not an arbitrary seal imposed by God on anyone but is a natural process of maturation from the choices of that individual. This sealing is represented as being carried out by the angels of God, but as with many other things like punishment and plagues, God and company accept responsibility for the natural progression that is built into the very principles of reality that He has set up in the first place. To not accept that responsibility would be to allow someone else to lay claim to it and to abandon responsibility, and God never sidesteps responsibilities. He will rather take the blame for anything even when misplaced, untrue or unfair than to give occasion for the enemy to have a potential foothold for any of his deceptions and lies about God.

If Jesus were to return before the final sealing was accomplished through the maturing of the choices of each person, there would then be some if not many who had not finished the sorting through of their options internally and had not yet made their own final choice as to which side they would choose for eternity. I cannot even imagine the enormous complications involved if God were to become impatient with waiting and rush prematurely to bring His children home. But a huge problem would be exposed when the confusion became obvious about which ones should be taken to heaven or should be left on earth.

This is where the issue of judgment comes in. Judgment is not about God determining the fate of everyone else but the maturing and exposing of their character to the point that there is no desire for them to ever want to change sides. The righteous will have become so settled in their mind and heart that they want to be like the loving God that they have come to know, and the lost will be so settled in their lies about God that neither side will ever be willing to change their minds again. The lost may appear to want to be saved when they see the riches of the New Jerusalem, but it is not because their hearts are melted by the love of God but from fear of the consequences of their rejection of His love.

Those consequences are likewise not something imposed from the outside onto them unnaturally. The punishments of God on the lost are not something forced upon them against their will but are the natural results of their resistant will when it is exposed to the presence of perfect love.

So again, hypothetically thinking, is it even possible to imagine what might happen if Jesus were to return sooner than it was safe to do so, before every person had settled in their mind their responses to the convictions of the Spirit of God about the offer of salvation? One thing that seems to be true is that God would be seen as very unfair in exposing them to His lethal presence before they had finished deciding whether to accept His offer of preparation for that encounter or not. And because God is never unfair in the slightest, that makes this scenario completely impossible.

It is our own very twisted ideas of salvation, the Second Coming and the rules of the great war between good and evil that give rise to our speculations and confusion about the timing of the coming of Jesus. There is enormous confusion about the elements that must be in place before this phase of the controversy can be initiated. Nearly all of our religious notions about the coming of Jesus are rooted in selfish reasons. We are more interested in getting ourselves away from people we don't like and circumstances that make us uncomfortable than we are in revealing the real truth about God's perfect character, His faithfulness and His everlasting lovingkindness. And as long as our desires for heaven are rooted mainly in selfishness instead of a desire to reveal God's true glory, we ourselves are not ready or safe to be saved and encounter His presence up close.

So it is not only the maturing of evil that must be allowed to be completed but it is the maturing and perfection of our own motives that must take place before it will be safe for us to be exposed to the real glory of God in Jesus that will be seen more clearly at His Second Coming. Many Christians today glibly believe that they are ready right now for Jesus to come and take them away from this earth. Most Christians have mistaken ideas about what it means to prepare for that great event. But it is God's mercy and grace that prevents Him from allowing Jesus to return while we remain in mortal danger of being exposed by the revealing light of His glory. It is not until we have our minds and hearts radically transformed by believing the real truth about God – totally different things about God's nature and character than what is commonly assumed now – that we will be safe to encounter the intensity of love that would destroy us in shame otherwise.

Shame is part of the essence of the fire that burns from the inside out whenever God's presence is encountered at close range by someone who has not fully embraced the truth about His character. That consuming fire is not something imposed by God onto them from the outside as a punishment. That fire is a natural consequence of lies buried in the heart being exposed to and yet resisting, truth that is unavoidable in the light of His glory. And the feelings aroused in that encounter will be shame, fear, terror, even hatred and all the other negative feelings that we are capable of experiencing. It is the overwhelming intensity of those emotions that will ignite the fire that consumes the life of all who resist the real truth about God's love, mercy and perfection.

Since Jesus refuses to allow anyone to be short-changed by not having enough time to finish their choices, He is going to allow events in the end times to coalesce together to compel everyone at some point in history to come to a final maturation of their characters at the same time. We cannot figure out now fully how that is going to take place, but we do have clues from the Bible. But it will happen whether we can understand it or not. Instead of trying to figure out how it is all going to happen, we need to spend our time and energy focusing instead on discovering the real nature and truth about His glory, His character, His beauty, His righteousness. The closer we get to perceiving the real truth about His loveliness and His consistent mercy and forgiveness and kindness, the more matured His character will be reflected in our own life.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Searching for Real Truth

I switched on the radio today to try to find some good music to listen to at the request of my family. What we heard initially was a speaker from a typical Christian ministry giving a simplistic version of what is often called “the gospel” trying to appeal to people and to convict them of why they should turn to God. But instead of making me feel excited about knowing God better, the words of the speaker only stirred up some very intense feelings of jealousy for God's reputation that was being unwittingly maligned by the many false assumptions about Him they were presenting.

More and more I find myself out of step with the mainstream of Christianity and the philosophies they promote about religion and God. Because of the confused and mixed messages that are almost always present in religious teachings I find myself wanting to scream out in protest at times, wishing that the real truth about God could become more obvious to people claiming to be representing Him. Instead, the messages most commonly given are along the lines of beliefs in an angry God being appeased by a loving Jesus who died a terrible on the cross to prevent us from being fried in hell if we will just somehow feel sorry enough for doing bad things that offend Him.

All of my life I have had some version or other of this kind of teaching presented by everyone around me and this was usually labeled as being the gospel. But something deep inside of me also felt confused by the duplistic nature of the things being taught and for the life of me I could not figure out how this could really be called “good news”. There was always so many requirements that had to be met, so many attitudes that I was somehow supposed to conjure up to satisfy the demands of this “gospel” that I just couldn't see how this could really be viewed as good news, at least for me. It seemed more like a competition to see if I could jump through all the hoops laid down by God before I could be accepted into heaven and on the other hand a God trying to find some reason to keep me out.

But what I have come to even more resent in the past few years is the underlying assumptions that are almost never challenged of a God who will inevitably turn on His created children and lash out in anger against anyone who did not meet His minimum requirements to get into paradise. Something about this whole theology just rankles deep inside my soul no matter how much rationalization the teachers and preachers do to convince me that it is somehow fair. And to top it off, when they can't produce enough reasonable evidence to integrate beliefs about a loving God and teachings about a vengeful hell together, they quickly resort to their trump card to shut down all discussion about the subject – the “strange act” syndrome or the “mysteries that we just can't know”.

This final move to shut off all thinking or questions about the inconsistencies between a God of love and a god of hateful vengeance smacks all too much of the mind and soul intimidation exercised most forcefully in the Dark Ages when religion imposed its harsh beliefs about God on every human being under their dictatorial control. Anyone daring to question the strong pronouncements of the church were quickly branded as heretics and were threatened with similar torture and pain that was commonly believed were the methods used by the God they believed in. The same kind of thinking still underlies much of religion today even though people think that the reformation has changed everything. The problem is, I don't think the reformation has ever really been finished. There are still very important truths about God that remain buried under the misconceptions of sinful men because of false interpretations of teachings in the Bible.

As we listened to the discourse on the radio for a few minutes before I got some music CD's playing, we heard the speaker talk about our need to be saved from the punishment for sin in hell. I then heard my daughter comment that what we really needed was to be saved from him. She was referring to the speaker on the radio, but it occurred to me that in fact what this religious teacher was really saying was that we needed to be saved from Him – God.

And that betrays the core issue that has bothered me all of my life about these confused notions of what really constitutes the gospel. For in nearly all of the teachings that are going around called “gospel”, it is ultimately God the Father that is either implied or explicitly taught to be the one that we need to be saved from. It is the “wrath of God” that is usually presented as the dire threat from which Jesus was sent to “save” us and only in doing whatever formula the teacher subscribes to are we supposed to be able to avoid that terrible fate. The formula presented is generally unique to whatever denomination or even cult that happens to be offering their path to salvation. But all of this is becoming very strange and disturbing to me as I see more clearly what constitutes the real gospel as taught by the Bible.

The more I learn (which is partly because I continue to ask lots of questions about assumptions and the real meaning of words) and the more I study the Bible on this subject, the more attractive the real truth becomes about the true nature of salvation and the real truth about how God relates to and feels about us. It is not that there is no real danger to be concerned with or that there will never be any such thing as hell. It is just that nearly everything we have assumed about these things have been based more on traditions in religion than on solid biblical study with open minds and hearts and led by the true Spirit.

The exciting thing is that there are more and more people in the world beginning to wake up to the real truths about God. I believe that His Spirit is in the process of waking up anyone who is willing to be taught, who is willing to reexamine their own beliefs and assumptions whether they are religious, atheist or anything else. Those who are truly honest in heart and hungry to know the real truth about reality are going to be blessed with fresh revelations of truth that are going to go far beyond anything that any present denomination teaches today.

This is why I believe that it is extremely important for people to not get stuck thinking that others can supply them with all the truth that they need to be saved. When we depend on any church, any teacher, preacher or theologian to be our source of salvation truth, then we are shorting ourselves of the access to fuller truth that God wants to reveal to those who are hungry to move us past what others claim is complete truth. We must not allow ourselves to make anyone our standard or source of truth without a willingness to go to the Source ourselves and learn to listen to the Spirit of God instruct us personally.

Many fear that if each person chooses to listen directly to the Spirit of God individually that the result will be chaos and disunity. But this attitude betrays a lack of real trust in the ability of God to communicate with His children. It also betrays a secret desire for control through human means to achieve the unity that can only really be produced by divine methods. The Bible teaches that all children of God will be led by the Spirit of God – not by any human agents. As that Spirit communicates with each person it will be seen that the real unity that Christians long for will occur naturally because the Spirit never contradicts itself and all truth will be seen to be in harmony with the Bible. But the ongoing revelation of truth may not always agree with the traditional interpretations and spin put on things in the Bible by humans trying to achieve doctrinal control over other people's faith.

What I have been learning is that all concepts and doctrines must be checked and reexamined, even repeatedly, in the growing light of the glory of God's character as revealed in the life of Jesus. If anything is the slightest bit inconsistent with the testimony and example of Jesus about what God is really like, then it is urgent that we become suspect of that teaching and be willing to reconsider what might be another way of perceiving it. I have found this to be an excellent way to flush out subtle errors in doctrines and teachings that all my life I assumed to be fact simply because my teachers and church insisted they were true. It is not enough to have Bible texts all lined up to prove some belief. Just because someone can quote the Bible does not mean that their conclusions are in line with heaven's perspective. More and more I am seeking to ground myself firmly on consistency of faith that must align with the Bible and most of all with the witness of Jesus' life and the promptings of His Spirit instead of simply believing what anyone else teaches or preaches.

I am still very blessed, instructed and even corrected by listening to various speakers or reading some of their material. But at the same time I always keep uppermost in my consciousness that everything I hear must be referred to the Spirit of God that dwells in me. Anythings that seems to be out of line with what I have already been learning personally from God needs to be examined by the above standards and I consciously ask God's Spirit what He thinks about it. Sometimes He confirms that I need to take it seriously and adjust my own attitudes, assumptions or beliefs. Other times He reveals that this person is not the complete repository of truth no matter how advanced and in tune with God they may be. They are not to be my final source of truth, they are only agents that God can use to add to what He has already been teaching me in my own journey toward knowing the real truth about Him.

This has brought me a great deal of peace as I no longer feel I have to feel guilty for not agreeing completely with every godly speaker or teacher. I realize that God may be teaching me things that they have not yet learned and at the same time is teaching them things that I have not yet learned. He definitely can use them to increase my own perspective of truth, but I do not have to give up what He has already shown me if it happens to differ from what they are saying. I do remain willing to once again challenge my own beliefs, but it is so refreshing to find out that God is never offended by anyone challenging or examining anything that claims to be truth. In fact, He is pleased when we are willing to begin thinking and questioning our assumptions. If our heart is pursuing a knowledge of His heart and an experience of knowing Him personally, He will be faithful to guide us in the right direction and takes responsibility to continue to draw us into a fuller understanding of truth.

What I am searching for are others who are willing to ask tough questions that motivate us toward a deeper appreciation of the real truths about God. I am hungry to dialog with people who are loyal to the Bible but not dogmatic in their prejudices. I want to connect with other hearts and minds that are willing to remain humble and open to new truths as God brings them to us and yet courageous in sharing these truths with others even when it is not popular with a church. And most of all I want to have a spirit free of bigotry and intensity. I am coming to realize that when I start to feel that “intense” feeling inside when others disagree with me that it is not reflective of the real Spirit of Jesus. This intensity is actually a counterfeit of the passion that God has to unite our hearts and lives with Him.

I want to have much more of the pure and holy passion that I am beginning to perceive in the heart of God and much less of the intensity of bigotry and defensiveness that characterizes much of the religious zeal seen in this world. I want to learn the ways of God, to share the feelings and emotions and reactions of God, to come into sympathy with Him and to see reality through heaven's perspective. This is my desire and my prayer and I believe is also His desire for me.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Carry Your Part

This is just a late note about something that happened a couple weeks ago. But since it is still Christmas time it is worth posting.

Last year about this time we heard about a concert in a nearby town put on by the Coles County Barbershoppers. Since we have always enjoyed Barbershop music we were eager to enjoy some music in this part of the country that seems to us somewhat devoid of opportunities like this.

The concert was as good as we hoped for and after the concert my desires to once again be involved personally in music were again revived. As we passed through the handshake line with the many chorus members in the hall, I asked one of them how viable it was for me to join this chorus. Since I sing bass I figured that it might be quite likely they wouldn't have need for any more since it is so easy to find people that sing that part.

They encouraged me to just show up on a Tuesday night where they practice after the holiday break and start singing with them. That is exactly what I did starting in February of this year and have been enjoying the music ever since. This holiday season I was privileged to be able to join the chorus in two performances of their Christmas concert myself. While standing in the handshake line after the last concert I remarked to the man standing next to me that it was in this very line one year before that I had been inspired to join the chorus myself.

This has been a real blessing for me over the past year. This chorus is lead by a father-son team who are passionate about music and care about the men of this chorus from their heart. I have observed that this is more than simply a professional singing group. These are people that have been learning to be involved at a little deeper level of caring for each other than simply showing up and learning their part each week. While the directors can be very tough on us at times and sound very nit-picky, it is clear that they also realize the volunteer status of each person and they have a knack for inspiring us to want to blend our voices in ways superior to the average singing group. They believe in us and want us to discover that we can be better than we assume we are.

That is the kind of person I want to become much more than I have been. I have been learning just a little more about the God who believes in me far more than I have ever dared to do. To see this attitude in others in the way they treat me reminds me of my own need to believe in other people and see past their faulty performances to see what is latent in their heart. I want to perceive the inner beauty and potential in what appears to everyone else to be nothing but ugliness. I want to be an inspiration for someone who has never dared to believe in themselves. In short, I want to be a channel of hope and encouragement that ever flows from the heart of God.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I am starting to sense that I need to align myself differently with the legacy of my father than I have done thus far. Up to this point I have generally seen his combativeness, his meddling in other people's spiritual lives and his critical relationship toward the church as things for me to totally avoid. As a result of all these faults that to me were so obvious in his life I have found it difficult to perceive clearly many of his true strengths of character, things in his life that were worth emulating and admiring. I am not saying that I don't think there are any there, I am just saying that it is hard for me to see them clearly from my close proximity as one wounded by many of his mistakes.

I have spent many years very slowly and sometimes painfully working through a process of healing from much of the damage caused in my life by my dad's mistakes. I don't believe that it is wrong to say that, for an important part of my own healing has been to finally admit that many of the things that happened to me were in fact wrong, hurtful and not in line with God's ways. My perception of God was severely distorted by my dad's mistaken ideas about Him that were so prevalent when he was growing up. When I finally could see those faulty beliefs in the light of truth and identify them as part of the causes of the deep wounds in my heart, then my heart could begin to come back to life, to be willing to take the risk of coming back into the light very tentatively and consider functioning as a heart is supposed to function in relationship with others.

For this healing to continue and deepen, my willingness to identify the real causes of the lies embedded in me like slivers and burrs buried deep in my flesh has been a critical and necessary element. I realize that there is still much more internal healing that needs to happen as more memories are uncovered and more pain is exposed to the light of grace and the real truth about God. But now I am sensing that it may be time to move into a more advanced phase of my healing and to begin to see even more truth about my dad that will have a different kind of maturing effect in my life. It is time to begin to move beyond seeing clearly the faults of my dad and without ignoring those or hiding from them again, it is time to add a knowledge and awareness of the other aspects of his example that are worth appreciating, are worth emulating, the unique character traits that were important and that have been passed on to me as God-ordained gifts from my family heritage.

God designed the human mind to function under the “rules” or principles of family-type relationships. And even though sin has largely wreaked havoc in this area as Satan has sought to obliterate every trace of God's original purpose for family governance of His people, the hard-wiring is still in place within every human and the plan of salvation is God's way of reviving these ancient paths in the brain and to awaken them to be used for their original purpose once again. The more we understand the true purpose and design of family relationships, the more unity we are going to see among God's people and the more effectiveness and power of the gospel will be displayed in the lives of His children who will reflect His character of perfect love to an amazed watching world.

I am starting to feel conviction that it is time for me to become more aware of the noble traits of character that kept my father going for so many years even though his early years were filled with trouble, pain and weaknesses. I need to have the stories of his life reviewed and re-analyzed from a new perspective so that the parts of my father that reside inside of myself can know how to act properly and be utilized to accomplish what God intended for them. For those who are trying to follow God in obedience, each generation receives the opportunity to build on the past generation and to take the work of character development much farther than the last. If I am willing to be honest and fully aware of how my dad failed to follow God's ways, even though that was done in ignorance, but to also become fully aware of how my dad developed character that was in line with God's ways that may have made him a non-conformist with others around him, then I can be prepared to know both what to avoid in my own experience and just as importantly know what to leverage to my advantage and to God's glory.

I have been alerted in the past few weeks to little things about what I remember of my dad that I previously thought were things to avoid at all costs but are actually things that partially need to be strengthened. Though especially in his later years his strengths became more and more perverted due to the pervasive bitterness that was taking over his soul and spirit, the underlying strengths of character that served him very well in earlier years are still worth emulating. And since I have been invested through the principle of inherited family tendencies with many of the character assets of my parents, I need to learn how to sort through all these various legacies from them and make use of the ones that are worth keeping and learn to leverage them more astutely for my own growth. If I do this properly, I think that there may be immense inner power available that I am currently very unaware of lying latent inside of me like a trunk full of treasures gathering dust and undiscovered in an attic.

I don't feel competent to identify completely all that is good or bad from my dad's past, but I do know that God can be trusted to guide me through this sorting process to discard that which is harmful and to incorporate and strengthen that which is needed in my own experience and character. What I am coming to realize is that in trying to reject the faults of my father I can unintentionally also throw out some of the things of great value in my haste to unload the pain from my past. Now that I have been freed of much of the pain of my past and feel more secure in the arms of my real Father in heaven, I feel Him urging me to go back and reconsider some of my previous evaluations and to take back into my life the things that He shows me are really worth keeping and incorporate them into my own life.

It is sort of like sorting through the tools in a garage filled with all sorts of junk, collections from many years and strange things that I am not completely familiar with myself. I actually helped do this very thing with my adopted daughter a few years ago. After her dad died we began to sort through her large garage and shed that was packed to the rafters with all sorts of things: tools, lumber, car parts, parts for nearly anything imaginable as well as antiques, furniture and lots and lots of junk. She knew almost nothing about the usefulness or value of many of these things and was very afraid she would discard something of value. But at the same time she felt suffocated living in a house overflowing with things she knew she would never likely use herself.

It took us several years of sorting, negotiating, waiting for memories to subside and emotional releasing for us working together to reduce the huge inventory of stuff in that house. She came to depend on me to give her guidance as to the identity of many of the things she was totally unfamiliar with in order to decide what to do with it. I myself had to be very cautious and disinterested in my assistance even though I was doing most of the actual work of sorting, rearranging and deciding what was worth keeping or selling and what should just be hauled away. I had to be very careful under the circumstances not to ask for anything for myself even though there were some tools I could have used from this huge stash of inherited stuff. There were boxes and boxes of various tools and many things that I could have used in the work that I do. But because of my unique relationship with her and because of her extreme sensitivity about everything under her control, I learned to just keep my desires to myself and just give her my opinions about whether or not she should keep each item and what she might possibly do with it if she did not want it.

It is starting to feel a little bit this way in looking back on my own pile of character traits passed on from my ancestors to me. I am not wise enough to always know what is valuable and what should be tossed out or burned. Because of my lack of perspective or experience I have to depend on outside advice and guidance to learn what I need to get healing for and what I need to learn to keep and even utilize for my own life. For there are many very valuable tools from the past that if I learned how to use them properly could save me a great deal of expense and time trying to recreate them for myself through hard experiences. I likely will find that I don't have to necessarily go out and reinvent the wheel so to speak when I already have a number of them sitting around in my inner garage. I just need to learn how to use them properly and trust in God to teach me how to implement them better than how my parents used them.

One thing in particular in my dad's life that has caused me mixed emotions was his boldness in “standing up for truth” in the face of any and all opposition. On the surface this looks like a no-brainer for religiously-inclined people. The cliché sounds very noble, but behind the scenes I experienced pain of embarrassment and also saw how his boldness was often not exercised in love and true compassion. What I have observed over the years, not only with my own father but with many like him, is that this attitude of boldness is used as a religious excuse for judging and condemning others while claiming to be a defender of truth. Because of the abuse of this God-given gift of boldness, I have tended to lean very strongly in the other direction most of my life. Since a very young age I have tended to be somewhat timid and sensitive to not offending others unnecessarily. That has ended up producing in my life a very strange mixture of both of these elements that is not necessarily a good outcome. I have often been both aggressive and hurtful while at the same time being very fearful and withdrawn. It is something like having the worst of both my dad and my own character flaws mixed in together.

I now realize that the real problem that caused my dad's strengths to become misdirected and hurtful many times was his misunderstandings about the real meaning of most of the religious words and concepts taught in the Bible and the church. He certainly knew the standard ideas of religion and had a very strong grasp on doctrines and theological facts, but like most of us he had almost no true experiential knowledge of the spirit side of truth and had very few encounters with real love. Thus his experience was very lop-sided and he became more and more unbalanced as he got into his later years.

But his legacy has caused me to be almost paranoid about this tool of boldness. As a result I have tended to gravitate more toward avoidance of confrontation which I still believe is better than the damaging outbursts that caused my father so many problems. But God is wanting to teach me how to be bold in His way and for His glory instead of for my agenda and opinions like my dad did. Because God has spent years retraining me as to the real meaning of many of the religious words and concepts of His kingdom, I am far better positioned to utilize the element of boldness in ways that could honor God's reputation instead of damaging it like my dad too often did.

I am not saying that my dad ever intended to hurt God's reputation. That was the last thing he wanted to do. But because of his partial ignorance about the real character of God, and because he had so little real unconditional love shown to him, and because his heart was so deeply damaged and unhealed from his early experiences in life, he spent nearly all his life trying to do religion the best way he could figure out. But the outcome was that he used many of God's tools entrusted to him in ways that were not always the best for God's family or for his own.

But I have the wonderful advantage of being able to see all of this in much greater perspective than he ever could. I have the ability to see both what to avoid as well as what he had that laid a better foundation for me than what he started with. And it is this latter area that I am now realizing that I am lacking in knowledge of at this point. It is his strengths that I need to become more familiar with and it is my privilege to learn how to use the tools passed on to me in ways that will honor and strengthen the work of God in other people's hearts instead of using them abusively in ways that tear apart the work of God in hearts. And as I do this, the legacy and efforts of my own dad over his years of trial and error will be used by God to not just honor God but will greatly improve and enhance the reputation of my own father.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Spiritual Magnetic Theory

I woke up very early this morning and my mind began to wander across various things and would not allow me to go back to sleep. Last night I bought some magnets at the store to help hold down plastic sheets over our car windshields to keep the ice off of them. Evidently my brain decided that it would like to find another use for these magnets, or to be more honest I think God maybe wanted to share something important with me about parallel principles in His kingdom.

I began to think about the polarity of magnets and the effect that they have on the human body as well as their relationship to each other. Suddenly it occurred to me that the principles of magnetism is very revealing as a powerful illustration of many things I have read in the Bible about salvation and the healing of our souls.

So this morning I got up around 3 AM since I couldn't sleep anyway and worked on trying to draw a crude illustration to explain what was swirling through my mind. I think it would be very helpful to set up a demonstration with real magnets to explain some of these principles of reality in a presentation some time. But for now I will have to work with just graphics.

One of the main verses that kept coming to my mind was this one.

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

Think of these two factors as attraction and repulsion. The principle of magnets is that like repels like and opposites attract. When you face opposite poles of a magnet toward each other they will have a strong power to pull each other closer. When you face like poles of magnets toward each other they will repel each other. Both of these actions become stronger and stronger the closer they get to each other. When two magnets are attracted and finally meet each other it is very difficult to pull them apart. Conversely, trying to push repelling magnet very close together becomes very difficult to do as they will try to slip around and push against each other not wanting to be in close proximity.

I tried to make this first chart more or less self-explanatory. When we are attracted by the desires of our fallen nature to the allurements of this world designed to target our particular preferences and weaknesses, the magnetic attractions becomes stronger and stronger the closer we allow ourselves to get to those things. I we indulge ourselves in little flirtations with sin we are choosing to face our souls in that direction and the invisible magnet pull will become surprisingly strong and sometimes very unexpected.

At the same time we will find that the things of God just don't seem to be all that interesting. Oh, we may be very engaged in religious activities and even have a lot of enjoyment having animated discussions with others about religious topics, but the Law of God and the high standards that Jesus talked about just seem too difficult to reach and so we feel some degree of repulsion against giving ourselves fully over to God's control of our lives and full access to our hearts.

The second chart I made is also a bit simplistic but tries to illustrate the relationship that a real Christian will have with both the world and with God. Remember, these are not things that we have to work at making happen; these are simply principles of reality, of how our minds and hearts are designed to function just as magnets are going to act the way they do no matter what we may try to believe.

There are a number of other effects that take place in these relationships that I was not able to incorporate into these simplistic illustrations. One is the fact that when two magnets become closely attached to each other and combine their force fields, they actually increase the power of their attractions and repulsions for each other. Thus, when one becomes closely aligned with the world and sin, the repulsion and resistance against God become even more powerful than before the unification with the world. Likewise, when one becomes joined to Christ in covenant by sacrifice (Psalms 50:5) the revulsion to sin from God's perspective becomes the feelings of the person who is drawing closer to His heart.

One of the most important things about this is very similar to a principle that I observed when I explored the mirror analogy about our lives. The factor that determines what we are going to reflect is in our choice of what direction we focus our attention. If we focus on problems and sin in other people's lives or dwell on our own faults and failings all the time, that is what we are going to reflect and is what becomes part of our character. When we choose to focus on the character and glory and goodness of God, especially in the midst of trials, temptations or assaults by the enemy, then our mirrors will reflect the responses of God instead of our own natural reactions.

So too in this illustration, the determining factor that decides what kind of forces will interact in our lives is what direction we choose to face our own magnet. If we choose to flirt around the edges of what is right or indulge our carnal desires even occasionally, we will find maybe too late that the subtle, invisible drawing of the world is pulling us away from God and more and more into sympathy with the the things of this earth.

But if we accept the offer of Jesus to take away our fears, guilt shame, pain and heal our wounds by turning our full attention toward Him and learning of the real truth about how He feels toward us and what He did for us at the cross, we will find ourselves more and more enamored and enticed by the beauties of God's character, the consistency of truth and the satisfaction that comes from fulfilling our true design for living. As we turn our faces toward God and give Him our sins and our hearts, His righteousness will be more like a magnet for us and will then begin to glow through us. We will also find ourselves sharing His revulsion against sin and the things that used to be so attractive to us.

The action of having our magnets turned from one direction to the other is found in the term repentance. Repentance is a gift from God just as is everything else that we need for life. The key element that we exercise in all of this is our free choice as to what to do with the provisions of salvation that God offers us during this time of probation we are given here on earth. If we accept God's offer of salvation, believe in His forgiveness, embrace the truths of His healing love and compassion for us and seek His face by turning our shame-filled, fearful faces toward Him, His power will work in and through us to accomplish all of the rest as we cooperate with His work in our lives.

But if we try to waffle between trusting God with our lives and still trying to cling to things of this world at the same time, our hearts will become very unstable and like a magnet waffling between two opposing attractions we will find ourselves becoming more and more erratic being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:8).

There are many other potential inferences that I believe may be seen if this is considered even more thoroughly. But I wanted to at least get this captured and condensed initially so that I can think about it more and consider it from other perspectives and relative to other principles that I have been learning.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Heaven's Reward System - 1

Over the last couple days I have been getting rather fascinated with another epiphany of sorts that has struck me. Pieces of information from various sources over the past few years have suddenly come together in my understanding to give me a whole new perspective on the rewards that the righteous are going to receive in heaven. When this new understanding began to really sink in I again got very excited about the goodness and fairness of God in contrast to the assumptions about Him that I got from religion for most of my life.

I talked about these assumptions with a good friend of mine today on the phone and she verbalized my discomfort with the old thoughts that we both had about the idea of differential rewards being handed out in heaven. The way that it is typically presented by teachers and preachers smacks too much of the reward and motivation systems that we are so familiar with here on earth that depend to some extent or another on some level of selfishness. Also inherent in almost all reward systems is the presumption that some kind of performance has to be achieved to earn the reception of a reward chosen by some other entity. We are all very familiar with this way of thinking about rewards and I am afraid that our paradigms about rewards usually infect our thinking of heaven's system so much that it is very difficult to objectively consider that maybe it is quite different than what we assume it is.

But as I thought about some of the verses in the Bible and the words of Jesus about rewards and some other important aspects related to rewards, it began to dawn on me that far from being an arbitrary assignment of kudos for good behavior or great accomplishments for God, the rewards that we will enjoy in heaven are going to be totally of our own creating while here on earth. It is just that we are going to realize the full magnitude of the effects of the things we have chosen here on earth to invest our time and lives into. That is what is going to determine the wide variations between the rewards that some will receive in comparison to others.

I went to my Bible software and did some searches on key words in this study and found that the Bible was strongly supportive and informative about my new premonitions of this subject. Since I had never viewed it from this perspective before I had not noticed the impact and implications of many of these verses until I brought the light from some key previous insights to bear on the list of verses that emerged from my word searches.

I am still taking more time to carefully analyze the numerous verses dealing with this subject, but the revelation that it is already bringing to my heart is once again causing me to want to worship and appreciate even more a God who is much better than I have ever thought He was. It is fresh revelations of His glory like this that continue to draw me to want to find out even more about Him as quickly as I can.

I do not want to try to explain everything I am discovering right now. But I will start by saying that one of the key elements to what I am finding is the word joy. And I believe that this is giving me a much more correct perspective on heaven's type of rewards. I am coming to see clearly that very likely joy is the main ingredient of these things we describe as rewards in heaven. At first that may seem like almost a disappointment to some, but the more I investigate this and the more I have learned about the true meaning of the word joy, the more sense this all makes and the better I see it correlating with everything I see about these two concepts, particularly in the New Testament.

I will take time later to further explore this. But for now I am going to rejoice in the Lord greatly for He is worthy to be praised for His great wisdom, kindness and fairness beyond what any of us ever give Him credit for. Praise the Lord for the way He has set up reality so that both our punishments and our rewards are simply natural outgrowths of the choices we make in our lives.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tear Down This Wall

I just finished reading about the New Jerusalem and also about the fall of the Berlin wall in Germany. I can remember watching the news during that time with awe and fascination as pictures of exuberant Germans tore into that giant wall that had split their homeland apart for so many years and right in front of the authorities, in a frenzy began to destroy it with any tools they could lay hands on. The intensity of their emotions from getting a taste of freedom for the first time in their lives was contagious.

I myself had lived my whole life hearing stories of the horrors of communism and the desperation of people trying to get out of that oppressive system. Many people lost their lives to the savagery surrounding that wall trying to escape to a life of freedom. All of my life that wall in Germany stood for everything that was wrong with much of the world behind the “iron curtain”.

But then the amazing days of change began to thaw the cold war that had kept so much of the world locked in fear. Americans, once forced to practice nuclear attack drills in school by diving under their desks, now found themselves witnessing a strange phenomena, the movement of people hungry for freedom and leaders standing up to dismantle one by one the national restrictions that had kept the world locked in mutual hatred and threat of extinction. As the freedom thaw progressed across Eastern Europe it finally reached Germany where some of the most ruthless violence had been used to suppress and control people for decades.

Then there was the historic moment when our president, Ronald Reagan, stood before that German symbol of tyranny and defiantly cried out against it in protest and challenge, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The effect was electric all over the world. I can remember again my wonder at the boldness of this popular president to take head-on this “empire of evil” as he called it. I also sensed that what was happening in the world was God-arranged, not just the coincidence of events and personalities.

As I think of all the events in various countries that riveted the world's attention during those short years of expanding freedom, the fall of the Berlin wall was possibly the most dramatic. As the events began to speed up and the political pressure intensified on the East German government to relax their suppressive control and allow their people to be reunited with their fellow Germans in the West, anticipation and excitement grew all over the world. We all wondered how this would play out, whether there would be a time of unprecedented bloodshed like the communists were known to be capable of, or would they finally admit that their ideas were inadequate and surrender to the movement of freedom that could no longer be restrained.

Even as I read the short devotional this morning reminding me of those scenes of almost unspeakable joy and delirious celebration that broke out when the German guards finally opened all the gates and allowed 100,000 Germans to surge through to West Berlin, I found my eyes filling with tears of emotion from something deep inside my own soul. Something in that scene of breakthrough for freedom resonates with the deepest longings of every human being and it is something implanted there by God Himself. Some mysterious, primeval longing for true freedom is embedded within our very psyche that cannot be ignored or forever repressed. We were designed for freedom and nothing can ever thwart that design without unavoidable, terrible consequences in the end.

This illustration was used by the author to remind us that this wonderful event from our recent past is only a tiny foretaste of the sense of release and joy and delirium that we are going to feel when we finally escape the claws of sin and enter into the gates of heaven for the first time. Right now it is difficult to even imagine that feeling because we are living under increasingly oppressive human governments that are in the process of enslaving us and stripping away our freedoms instead of leading us closer to what we were designed to enjoy.

But in God's kingdom of love there is only perfect freedom, joy and peace without any coercion. There is never any fear in God's order of things and no threat of punishment for non-compliance, for the old order of things will be passed away forever. This is very confusing for many of us because of the many mixed messages that we have about God and His ways. There are so many false teachings about how God conducts His business and how He treats His subjects that we often cannot perceive the purity and completeness of the freedom that exists in heaven.

But the closer one gets to perceiving the real truth about God's belief in total freedom, the more exciting life becomes and the more anticipation is aroused in the heart. A deep longing, far surpassing the longing of the suppressed subjects of the Eastern bloc countries under communism for freedom, is awakened in the soul and a sense of anticipation and hunger drives us to run faster and faster toward the liberators sent to deliver us from this terrible evil.

Reading a description of the New Jerusalem in which we are designed to live gives us a lot of clues as to the real nature of God's kingdom. It is a place where the gates are never closed, the light never fades into night and the walls are not designed to constrict but to decorate. If we really want to know the truth of how God feels about us we need to spend much more time studying the nature of the environment that He is preparing for us to live in for eternity.

When we live in acceptance of our condition and choose to believe that not much can change or maybe even needs to change, we will remain in the darkness and complacency that keeps us from preparing for the coming crisis that is beginning to explode on this earth. Without realizing it, almost all of us are living behind looming walls that surround our hearts from being touched by others. There are barbed wire fences around our hearts that lash out at anyone trying to peek in and see the pain contained inside. There are numerous guards in our minds on alert to attack anyone getting to close to breaching the wall, either from within or from the outside. We think that this is all designed for our protection, just as the East Germans claimed that the Berlin Wall was to protect East Germany from an attack by the West. But everyone knew that was a lie and the same is true for our own hearts as well.

We may claim to be Christian and to follow God's will in our lives, but unless we have a growing hunger for real freedom and an unquenchable passion to do whatever it takes to live in total freedom from the tyranny of sin causing us to cower inside our walls, we will remain in confusion, disappointment and enslavement. Only those who are hungry enough for freedom to release their hold on everything they own and allow God to coordinate their escape will enjoy the thrills of heaven and find a home in the new earth. For unlike communism, Satan will never open his gates to allow his slaves to escape his control. In this situation God is going to launch an all-out attack to liberate all those who have made a covenant with Him by sacrifice.

But it is necessary for our freedom for us to give God permission to tear down the very real walls that exist in each of our hearts. Until we acknowledge the restrictive nature of our walls of prejudice, pride and fear, we will be unwilling for God to dismantle them and set us free. God is very capable and eager to tear down our walls and bring us healing, freedom and real joy in the places of pain deep inside our souls. But He cannot rescue us from our own prisons until we are hungry enough for freedom to request deliverance from the only power strong enough to breach the enemy lines.

What I am sensing is the importance of becoming more hungry and thirsty for God, for real truth, and not just factual truth but far more importantly truth about what is real and what my heart was designed for so that it can thrive and mature and connect with other hearts. I am starting to pray every day specifically that God will make me and every individual in my church and family more hungry and thirsty for God and for real freedom. I am asking Him to make us dissatisfied with the status quo, disappointed with the things that used to bring us pleasure and to awaken a passion for God inside of our hearts that cannot be suppressed without finding Him and connecting with His presence.

I am praying that this hunger will intensify and that our awareness of our dire condition will become much more clear to our minds consciously. I am praying that God will do whatever it takes to wake us up and cause us to see our enormous danger in playing religion without having an intimate connection with His heart. I am praying that God will un-deceive our hearts and minds and cause us to realize that we must find freedom ourselves before we can ever lead anyone else to freedom. I am giving God permission in the supernatural war for souls to launch a rescue mission into my home and my church and snatch us out of the chains of lethargy and complacency that is strangling us. I am praying for a deep craving to seize us for a life of clean spiritual air, of pure water, real food and a longing for the true freedom that is the critical environment that love needs in order to grow and thrive.

God, tear down the walls that have kept us in oppression, darkness and ignorance of Your love all of our lives. Tear down the walls in our own hearts that we are so accustomed to that we often don't even realize they exist. Give us glimpses of the wonderful freedom and joys that are just on the other side of our walls and implant in our hearts an intense, insatiable hunger to live in total freedom. Give us the passion of our forefathers who were so hungry for liberation that they cried, “Give us freedom or give us death!”

Father, we are being killed by complacency and don't even realize it. We are being slowly boiled to death like frogs in a pan without sensing our danger. Please wake us up and cause us to unavoidably hear your warnings to get ready for the rescue teams that are sent to pluck us out right now to safety. Show us the real way to get ready for Your coming and give us a taste of Your goodness even now. Open our hearts, enlighten our minds and intensify our passions to be radical in our break with the enemy. Do this for Your name's sake and for the kingdom of heaven.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Learning to Tune In

I have had discussions with different people over the years that complain that God doesn't seem willing to talk to them like He does for other people. Of course, trying to argue them out of what they believe is generally not very productive or helpful for them, but it does raise an issue that bothers many people. I have a friend right now that has several times talked with me about the feeling that He does not know how to go about having a relationship with God, much less having a feeling of intimacy with Him. He has been asking me how to go about hearing God and I am taking His requests very seriously.

This morning while listening to a sermon as a visitor in another church, some thoughts came to me about this that I had to write down quickly on whatever paper I could find nearby. In this case it was the back of a visitor registration form in the pew and so I spent some time distracted from the sermon trying to capture the thoughts swirling around inside before they escaped.

An illustration that came to me was that the Holy Spirit can be compared to a radio signal in the air all around us. This is a constant signal that is being broadcast without interruption but is far more unique than any earthly radio signal could accomplish. God's “radio” broadcast is uniquely customized so that each person who tunes into it will receive messages designed just for them at just the time that they need it. These messages consist of directions, warnings, counsel, wisdom, comfort and encouragement – whatever is best for that person at any given moment or for any situation.

Even though the signal is custom tailored for each individual, the signal is broadcast on a particular wavelength or frequency that is dedicated for the use of heavenly intelligences. There are also many other broadcasts filling the airwaves that are not from God but are also somewhat customized for people with different interests. These are all spirits designed primarily to entertain and deceive the whole earth and keep them distracted from paying attention to the urgent messages from heaven for God's children on this world.

When people claim that they cannot hear any message from God and assume that it is because God refuses to talk with them, they are buying into one of the lies about God that are very popular on the alternate wavelengths. But the real problem is not that God is not broadcasting His thoughts and communications to people, but the issue lies ay the other end of the process, the receivers. God is faithful to give people messages of mercy and warning and help. But if we do not learn how to deal with the things that prevent us from hearing them the fault lies completely with us, not with God.

Some people are actually ignorant that they have within them the equipment that is needed to listen to the broadcasts from heaven. They may be so intellectual that they are almost totally out of touch with their own heart and so do not know how to listen through their own spirit to the spirit of other people or the Spirit of God. In this case they need to learn from others and from God how to access their equipment and be trained in how to properly operate it so that they can tune into and keep up to date with all the information flowing into this earth from heaven's intelligence center.

Other people are very adept at using their receiving equipment but are keen on keeping their dial tuned to alternate frequencies that suit their tastes better. They don't like the discomfort of convictions that the Holy Spirit brings into their heart and so they learn how to keep switching off the incoming signals from God and filling their minds, hearts and time with all sorts of entertainment designed to neutralize and drown out the many messages of warning and appeal to repent and turn to God for life and hope and peace.

Some people hear God's voice quite clearly and persistently, though they may not correctly identify it as coming from God necessarily. But they harden their hearts in resistance to the messages of truth and appeal and keep resisting until their receivers become so damaged and their hearts so badly calloused that they can no longer hear the messages being sent to save them from sin and imminent destruction.

I believe that God uses all sorts of means to reach every person with messages of warning and appeal. He may have to butt in on the alternative frequencies at times and issue warning bulletins that cannot be ignored. But if people continue to refuse to tune into heaven's frequencies and stay tuned in long enough to have their lives changed and their hearts transformed by His love, then they make themselves liable and responsible for all the disasters that are inevitable for those ignoring the warnings from heaven.

Each one of us is given the choice of how we are going to relate to the messages coming to us from the realms of light and love. Those who accept the invitation to join God's side and become loyal to Him will choose to stay tuned into His frequencies and fill their minds with His truths and His promptings for their lives. This is described best in Romans 8. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. (Romans 8:14 NRSV)

God also wants us to do something else to protect us from being misled by the many false frequencies that claim to be the Spirit of God to lead us in our lives. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1 NRSV) How does one go about testing a spirit anyway?

I think that once again an analogy may be very helpful. Whenever a person owns a computer, especially if it is going to be exposed to the internet, it is generally considered the better part of wisdom to have a virus protection program running on that computer to keep it shielded from being infiltrated and exploited by worms and viruses designed to harm the computer. But a very important part of having virus protection is to keep that software updated on a very regular basis or one may still be vulnerable to new viruses designed to outsmart the software.

Just as virus protection software needs to have its database of virus descriptions up to date, so too must our internal virus scanners need to be updated each day by spending very intentional and quality time listening to voice of God in the Bible, the virus protection bank. When we allow God's Spirit to upload into our minds the needed protection for that day from the reliable Word of God, we can be protected from the latest schemes of the enemy to infiltrate us with deceptions designed to sneak into our hearts and minds unnoticed and cause much damage to the work God is doing in our life.

We must learn how to effectively test the validity and authenticity of every spirit message with the Word of God stored in our memory bank. But when we have checked that message against the Word and find it compatible, we are held accountable for whether we embrace it into our life and heart or whether we reject it because we don't like how it makes us feel.

God's Spirit is given to rescue us from the deceptions that are all around us like a miasma of pollution. It is given to alert us to dangerous temptations that try to allure us into thoughts or activities that would betray us back into the slavery of Satan and selfishness. The Spirit is constantly working for our good, to rescue us from danger, death and unneeded pain and to guide us into a closer intimacy with God. Its messages are always available for everyone, but not everyone is making those broadcasts available to their own heart by tuning into them effectively. That is up to each one of us to choose how we will relate to the provisions of God for our complete salvation.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Confession or Faithfulness?

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 KJV) This verse is one of the most used references in my dialog with God. I memorized it as a young boy as part of my religious upbringing, but the significance of this passage has not really impacted me until the past few years as my understanding of how true religion really works has been coalescing in my mind and heart. I think the main reason that its importance has become so much more clear to me lately is because my perception about my relationship to God has so radically shifted in the past few years. It is certainly not because I think I am finally “arriving”, finally accomplishing what I was attempting to do throughout my early years of attempting to become “good” and trying to be obedient enough to appease God and those around me. Nor is it because I have finally amassed enough spiritual knowledge and experience or have gotten rid of enough sin in my life that I now can feel safe to confidently believe I am on my way to heaven. These were all unspoken goals that were assumed in my heart to be the way to live out religion when I was growing up. But these are also the main components of one version of counterfeit religion that has produced a huge crop of bitter, angry people who today reject God openly and are looking elsewhere for satisfaction and fulfillment. They are angry about the lost years that they spent growing up in a system that robbed them of joy and instead only offered impossible demands for perfection. They are resentful that the God they were taught about let them down and only seemed to provide lists of overly-strict rules to follow while their heart languished inside longing for someone to just care for their deepest needs and pains. I can identify with many of their frustrations and reasons for turning away from God altogether or seeking out alternative religious philosophies. But I chose a different path early on that has caused my life to go in a different direction from nearly all of my friends. I realized when I was a teenager that there was something inherently wrong with the religion of my culture and the legalism in which I was raised. One of my great temptations was to throw it all overboard and just go out and plunge into a life of open sin and self-indulgence so that I could return to God later as one of those people that had such glowing conversion stories that entertained us so much during testimony meetings. But something else inside warned me that making such a choice might well result in my never returning at all and only causing me to loose everything in the end. I had no guarantee that I would be able to repent at a later date and find what I was really longing for as a Christian. Something told me that Satan was sinister enough to allure me into indulging in a life of sin and then finishing me off before I would have a chance to return to God and find what I was looking for. After weighing the options many times I finally chose to take what looked to be the longest possible route to finding true religion, to finding out the real truth about God. I would choose to stay within the system reluctantly while trying to figure out what was wrong with it and seek to discover truth for myself in the meantime. During many years of living under the influences of the teachings of the fathers and traditional religion, this verse was not much of an encouragement for me. It was more along the lines of yet another demand or requirement of God that had to be satisfied before He would ever accept me or forgive me. It was this huge obstacle at the very beginning of this verse that tended to always stump me from finding much comfort or solace in the rest of the verse. It was the nearly impossible precondition that I seemed to run into everywhere I turned in religion that prevented me from ever finding assurance and peace with God. IF!!! IF I would confess my sins... IF I could just confess enough of my sins to please a very nit-picky, all-knowing God who could always find sins in me that I could not recall myself... IF I could just make myself feel sorry enough or grovel enough when I admitted my sins to God... IF I could even be capable enough mentally to dredge up every single unconfessed wrong act I might have ever committed at any time in my whole life, and then somehow do whatever it was that God demanded of me in some elusive act of repentance, confession and begging endlessly for Him to forgive me... The main focus of my life for many, many years was an attempt to figure out how to fulfill this enormous precondition to receiving the grace and forgiveness of God that my heart so longed for. But no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times a day I confessed sins over and over – even the same ones many times – I could never find peace inside of me. It always seemed to come down to a sensation that I could never quite achieve the perfect confession or figure out just what would satisfy God in repentance that would bring me the inner rest that I so desperately needed in my heart. So over time this verse lost much of my attention. Since it seemed impossible for me to meet its nearly impossible demand for my perfect confessions I gave up trying to follow this route to God and simply let this verse sink into the background for a number of years. Sometimes it would come up to haunt me again and I would wonder just what this text really meant, but mostly I just tried to live a good enough life to stay out of much trouble with God, try to get along with others as best I could and look reasonably good in the church. I became busy with raising a family and just trying to survive financially which I didn't do too well at either. Even in those arenas I found myself frustrated, angry and confused much of the time. It seemed that God was so out of touch with the problems of my life. At times He might throw a few crumbs of blessings or rescue me in desperate situations occasionally, but most of the time I felt somewhat on my own trying to figure out what was wrong with the religion that I had and why it didn't seem to work for me like it did for a few others who seemed to be close to God and happy as well. About twelve years ago God began to work in my mind and heart in a more direct way that I had ever encountered Him before. As I reread a book that had previously been nothing much more than a written description of the life of Christ, this time I sensed something very different going on in my heart as I read each day. I sensed an inner voice pointing out many inconsistencies between what I was reading and what I had grown up assuming about God from the teaching and examples of those around me. I began to see a Man who cared about people's hearts instead of making impossible demands and preconditions for coming to God. I began to feel stirrings of a deeply wounded heart beginning to wake up and ask disturbing questions about the religion of my childhood that almost no one seemed able to answer. I began to see myself in the stories of Jesus' interactions with people and was stunned at times to perceive that He usually treated them very differently than how I expected He would or that I had been treated by most religious people. Over time I was forced to make a conscious choice about the direction of my own spiritual life. I found myself confronted by the Holy Spirit to choose between staying in the comfort zone of my beliefs about God that I had assumed all of my life, or embracing the radical new truths about Him that I was beginning to see and feel whenever I read about the life of Jesus. The two belief systems were clearly incompatable with each other. I could either accept the offer of the Holy Spirit to retrain me and challenge everything I thought I knew about God or I could remain in my current belief system and not face my fear of change. The choice was up to me. I am glad that I chose to release my grip on the traditions of my past and gave God permission to reveal Himself to me in brand new ways that I had never allowed myself to consider before. But like the last time I faced a fork in my spiritual journey, I chose not to simply toss everything out immediately but to allow the Spirit to deal with each aspect of my old religion over time and open my mind and heart to the reality of what God was really like, replacing the false notions about Him that have kept me in discouragement and fear for nearly all of my life. This has been a very long and slow process for me, but it has also been very effective in building a stronger foundation for my spiritual experience as I have examined and revised one thing after another in my search for the real truth. What I have noticed maybe more than anything else in my pursuit of what is real and true is that the most important aspect that has to change is my feelings and beliefs about how God looks at me. This has been the core issue that has taken longer than anything else to change inside of me and continues to be challenged. But it has also been the basis by which I am coming to measure every other claim or assertion about what is true and real. As a result of my complete shift of emphasis about what is important in spirituality and in life altogether, I now have a completely different paradigm in place whenever I come back to look at anything I read in the Bible. Instead of starting with the assumption of a God who is looking for reasons to keep me out of heaven, I am now living in relationship with a God who is passionately devoted to doing everything possible to attract me into an intimacy with Him in every part of my life. He is working behind the scenes and through all the circumstances of my life to allure me into trusting Him more fully, urging me to let go of the lies about Him that have frightened me all of my life and to allow Him to have more access to the deep, wounded places of my fearful, timid, wounded heart. Now He is bringing me back to take another fresh look at this verse and show me the incredible power in it that I could never see before in this text. Now, instead of getting stumped at the supposed precondition of perfectly confessing every sin before God will accept or forgive me, I see that the focal point of this verse is really on the faithfulness and fairness of God. This verse is not about what I have to do to change God's mind about me but is a window through which I can glimpse a God who is eager to save and transform me if I will just give Him permission and believe in the truth of how He feels about me. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NAS95) If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NRSV)