Random Blog Clay Feet: 2008-01
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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Canned Worship?

The compelling thought that got me out of bed this morning (actually the third or fourth thought but I lost the others before I could capture them) was the discomfort I feel whenever people use canned music for worship songs in live settings. I know that many people share my feelings about this and it sometimes even becomes an issue of sharp contention or even regulation in some places. But what I want to know is the real reason why I feel that discomfort in the first place. What is it about that arrangement that somehow makes it feel like something is wrong here?

Then the thought occurred to me. Whenever a real live person or group of people sing or play along with recorded music to express praise or worship, they have almost completely lost all of their actual freedom of true expression.

At first this may sound like too strong of a statement, but let me explain. As a musician for all of my life and one who primarily expresses music “by ear”, the ability to interact emotionally with other people within the context of the music is a very crucial element of making the music feel genuine. I believe, especially for worship, that for music to really connect to the heart it must be authentically and dynamically felt while it is happening. Since the most valuable characteristic of the heart and the greatest, most important element that God honors and protects about the heart is freedom itself, then whatever flows from the heart to others or to God must be in the context of freedom if it is to be real.

So how does canned music affect the freedom of the heart? Well, if you are not at least somewhat a spontaneous musician like me then this may seem a little confusing or nit-picky. But I can assure you that whenever I have to play or sing along with a recording, no matter how well done it may sound, how expressive it may be, how inspiring it was when it was recorded live the first time – in having to follow along with the recording I have lost all my current freedom to express what is happening here and now in my own experience. I am forced to stay synchronized with what was once possibly a very valid expression of someone's heart but it is not necessarily reflective of what is true right now. Even worse, the recording was probably produced in such a sterile environment of a studio that its appeal has much more to do with carefully crafted professionalism than it has to do with genuine spontaneity at the time of recording.

In my mind, and I believe really in everyone's experience, real worship music – actually real worship of any kind, to be genuine must have the freedom of spontaneity. That is not to say there is no harmony with others. Freedom of expression does not mean total independence. Insisting on individually asserting my own way and style without regard for synchronizing with others around me is actually falling back into the same trap in a sense, of being restricted by recorded music. While I can have the complete freedom to express my heart in any way I wish when I am alone with God, when I choose to worship together with others I am entering into a different mode of worship. To just do my own thing in that context without regard for or connection with the spirit of those around me is to try to dictate to everyone else the way the music should go. That is not much different from dictation from a recorded piece of accompaniment.

What people call corporate worship (I hate that term – it sounds so commercial which has no place in God's relational system of organization) really means willingly joining a group of hearts together to allow them to synchronize and blend to create a collective identity during that period of time. Since real worship only comes from the heart this requires that the people involved are not only sensitive to the spirit of those around them but are also contributing their own spontaneity to a degree. All of the hearts thus connected are also reflective of what is currently going on in the lives of each person. They are able to have some influence on the group dynamics within the expression which is usually, but not only, in the context of music.

What this really means, as I think back on my own experience, is that not only am I listening dynamically to what others are doing musically and emotionally while we are in live worship, but I am able at the same time to influence everyone else through my part in the collective expression and in essence have a say in what direction the worship progresses. Again, this may sound somewhat confusing to some who have never enjoyed real dynamic, interactive fellowship within the context of worship music, but I will try to explain in more detail. And by the way, this is certainly not restricted to religious contexts by any means. Nearly all music is an expression of worship to some degree no matter what flavor it comes in. Worship itself I believe is nearly synonymous with music and music almost always, if not always, is an act of worship of something or someone. That is why music carries such power over our lives and has such mysterious influence on our hearts.

I believe that much of what is claimed to be worship of God is really better described as corporate worship with all the commercial implications included. Unfortunately corporate church has devolved into an institutional formula very similar to economic corporations designed to produce wealth and recognition in the world. We have refined and manipulated and entrenched our forms and routines. We have compiled pleasant-sounding arguments and inspiring experiences of external stimuli to satisfy our emotions. We have crafted very professional productions that leave us speechless and quivering with pleasure (or fear) and have come to believe that this is the religion that God wants for us. But if we are honest we have to admit that our deepest hearts are still empty in places where it really counts. Our lives are largely unchanged when we go back to “the real world” and religion becomes more of an event where we come to get an emotional fix each week than a dynamic, intimate interaction with the heart of God that transforms our whole being. An external religion is in the end a useless religion in the eyes of heaven.

If you are a musician that connects with your feelings through your music you don't need much explanation of what I am trying to say about music here. In fact, you very well might be able to express this much better than I am. If you are a technically good musician but have difficulty being spontaneously expressive you may be a little more confused or possibly even offended. It's also possible that you may be suffering from a locked heart which is a major impediment to authentic expression. If you are not a musician at all you also just may need more explanation.

Let me give an illustration that might be helpful. I have at times sung with what is known as Barbershop Music groups. The official name is so long that I can never remember it, but many people know at least something about it. It is that strange-sounding, tight harmony music that sends shivers of pleasure down some people's spine and that others find repulsive. I happen to be of the first order.

Anyway, for anyone who has ever sung in this kind of music successfully they know that expression and group awareness and unity is crucial to producing the kind of results that this music is famous for. The better and more complex the music the more attention the individual musicians must pay to each other during the performance. They must not only listen to the tone and pick up on the nuances from the other members but must also learn to blend, adjust their own tone and pitch to enhance the quality and sound of the whole and be willing to move in perfect synchronization with the group as they move through very tight harmonies that challenge each person to keep their note right on pitch. It is one of the best examples of the need for individual independence (requiring one to stay on a note so close to others that at times it feels like you are being pulled away from it by a strong magnet) balanced by the need for collective, unified expression as the director (or the group collectively if just in a quartet) moves in tight harmony and perfect synchronization through music that conveys a very unique experience and feeling.

One of the most important elements here is the collective group expression. That means that many times the “rules” of music, particularly the timing, is often broken quite flagrantly in favor of more intense expression of the message in the words or the nuances of the feelings of the director. Of course this is all practiced, memorized and repeated until by the time of performance it is quite predictable and repeatable. In that last sense it begins to move away from the point I am trying to make in this writing.

In my experience with worship music I have come to believe that a deeper experience is to be had if there is respect for the freedom of unified spontaneity reflective of the current condition or mood of the people involved. The closer a group of worshipers come to sensing each others hearts and keeping their own hearts open during the experience, the more authentic the worship becomes. That is precisely where the problem of canned music begins and tends to interfere with true expression.

Because recorded music – even if it was recorded by the very same people who are now performing – can only be truly reflective of the spirit at the time when it was recorded. After that it is locked into that original expression and is no longer free to adapt to what may be different in people's spirit today. If people are forced to follow along with a recording, which of course is not real-time humans with a spirit that are present and reactive to the rest of the group in real time, then this element introduces the element of control if everyone is to remain synchronized. And control is the antithesis of freedom.

That, to me, is the core issue that always causes me to secretly resent recorded music in the context of real worship. That is not to say we cannot worship using this means. I freely agree that there have been very many times in my life when I have joined in with recorded music and been deeply moved, inspired and lifted very high in my spirit into the presence of God. I still enjoy that experience. I like to crank up some of my favorite inspiring music in the car when I am traveling sometimes and sing at the top of my lungs where I feel more free than I can anywhere else. I am not advocating discontinuing, nor am I condemning the use of recordings. They have their place and are very helpful and enriching at times. But what I am saying is that in the context of live worship as a group it tends to be a dampening element, an inhibiting obstacle that subtly prevents some from being able to participate fully because the recording is completely insensitive to the current direction that their hearts need to move, even if it is only in the little nuances within the music.

Worshiping with recorded music (either in a religious context or secular, its all the same – just different objects of worship) is like trying to love a well-crafted robot. You may be able to create a robot that could simulate all sorts of pleasure-producing activities and is extremely attractive and try to fool yourself into feeling like you are having a real relationship, but inside you really know that your heart can never be fulfilled with such an arrangement. I once watched an appearance of Twilight Zone when I was a kid that highlighted this very conundrum. I believe the same element to some degree describes the problem of trying to play or sing along with a “robot” (which is in essence what a recording has become) in an activity that in its essence must be spontaneous, heart-generated and real-time to be authentic.

Does that mean I am prejudiced against anyone who uses recorded music to assist them? I think it might be more accurate to say that I always feel some sense of disappointment, like in some way I have been cheated a little bit from seeing deeper into their soul. Yes I can enjoy it and receive a great blessing from it sometimes. But there is always that little part of me that says this is fake to some degree and I didn't really get to see their real heart because it was overshadowed by the robot controlling the expression. A recording is like a little dictator that demands allegiance and total compliance. If we want to not feel like a fool we have to go along with what has already happened when it was recorded.

That is why I believe that at times it is often better to have simpler music that is more authentic. I am not in favor of sloppy music in the name of authenticity – that is insulting. I believe that respectful worship requires that we invest time and effort in learning to do our best both individually and as a team. But it also requires the freedom to reflect and influence in real-time the emotions and heart-feelings of the collective participants. That is the kind of experience that I long for and that is far more fulfilling for the heart.

In my experience I have come to realize that deeper, fulfilling worship also involves having more awareness of the current feelings in the hearts of those around me. If we have taken time to share our pains, our heartaches, our joys, our desires and passions at a more vulnerable level, then when we join together in expressions of music it becomes reflective of our desires and feelings; the unity and joy we experience is exponential compared with the typical “worship” routine usually found in most churches.

Being part of a worship team for a couple years I experienced this to some degree and began to become “addicted” to it. Since that time I have had very little opportunity to enjoy that and I miss it greatly. I have visited church after church and found some that had nice performers that sounded good up front, but I always felt very disconnected emotionally and spiritually.

Performance is often the enemy of true worship. The two get very easily exchanged and confused, but performance, not matter how good it makes people feel, is not what I believe to be real worship – at least worship of the God who created us to worship Him as our source of life and joy. If we are willing to be honest with ourselves we could see that much that passes as worship is often really worship of our own skills, worship of the music itself and the good vibs we feel from it or even worship of the pride we have in our exclusive church or music group.

Much music is actually worship of the performers from which we learned the music. I have often observed, even in the teams in which I participated sometimes, that there are times the musicians are listening in their imaginations to the original music track that they heard on the radio or on a CD while they are playing along with that music themselves externally. What they fail to realize is that while their performance sounds rather good to them (due to the fact that they can hear all the accompaniment background music filling in the gaps within their own head), the audience around them can only hear the pitiful sounds of their whaming away on a guitar and sometimes off-key renditions imitating some music idol as they attempt to imitate some hero of contemporary music. But since most audiences are too polite to express their amusement or disgust, the musicians are led to believe that everyone thoroughly enjoys their performance and continue to go on with their show. There are of course many variations of this symptom from slight to very bad, but you get my point.

In settling for robotically-controlled music, whether it be from an electronic rendition or from second hand imagination-induced control, I believe many people have never even tasted the joy of genuine, authentic worship in the presence of the real God of heaven. We have often unknowingly settled for very stimulating counterfeits that we believe to be the real thing. But I also believe that if we ever get a taste of the real thing that all our pitiful counterfeits would lose their appeal. We would find a new hunger for connecting our hearts with the life-giving heart of our real Father and our desires for Him would eclipse the sad imitations that we now label as worship.

I realize that worship involves much more than music. But I know that I have a deep hunger for real, fulfilling, connecting, authentic worship of God in a community of open-hearted seekers of His heart. I get little bits of it now and then but I have very seldom had opportunity to experience it on a more transparent and consistent level. I enjoy at times the privilege of personal worship, connecting my heart alone to listen to the heart of God at various times. But fellowship-based worship with tuned hearts and joined spirits is something I long for and need and that God designed us to enjoy. It is the way we are designed to receive life from Him so that we can feel alive and thriving.

I believe that God is preparing people all over the world to participate and join together very soon as His body to experience levels of real worship that is now unimaginable and intense. I also believe that false worship will be likewise very intense, emotional and pleasure-producing as a means of distracting people away from the genuine.

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. (John 4:23)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Emotional Synchronization

A close friend made a comment recently while we were listening to a song from a concert that has got me to thinking again about our cravings for life-giving sources. She said that it was a nice song but that she had grown to dislike it simply because she has heard it too many times.

This is a very normal response and a feeling shared by many people I suspect, but I am the kind of person that likes to know why that is and what is going on at the heart level to cause such a reaction. Part of the reason I want to know is because when one person feels turned off by something that to their close friend is a source of deep inspiration, then the synchronization of spirits between the two friends is disrupted and an atmosphere of potential conflict is created. I am not saying that conflict is inevitable in situations like this, but the potential is greatly magnified by the dissonance caused by the disparate reactions inside each person.

One approach to addressing this problem is sometimes to try to change the other person's reactions and try to bring them more into alignment with your own feelings about that particular thing. This is usually not very successful as it is only symptom management and trying to force externals to be in line with another person's internals while still feeling the same discomfort inside that they did before. We cannot usually make another person simply start liking something we like through peer pressure when the underlying triggers causing them to dislike it have not changed. This is an approach of uniformity through coercion and is never effective at bringing hearts into closer proximity.

Another solution that is often practiced is to seek out someone else that has likes and dislikes closer to that of our own and form relationships with them in place of those who don't align with our feelings as much. This can easily be seen the sports scene, the nightclubs, clubs of all types and even the churches people choose to attend. Most of the groupings of people that are formed come from a rearranging of social attachments in attempts to find others to bond with who share the same reactions to the same stimuli that we have. How much this is good or bad I cannot say with any authority but it is very clear that many of our friends are acquired by this means.

But if we simply have friends only because they share our interests, which is generally the case with a great many people, are we not avoiding looking into ourselves to examine or challenge our own motives and reactions? Realigning our friendships to make ourselves more comfortable instead of examining our hearts to see if we are avoiding pain and addressing those issues looks like living a life of escapism instead of becoming more alive.

Another aspect of this that comes to mind is the whole idea of where we get our sense of aliveness and identity. Often we are unconscious of the sources we look to and from which we draw our sense of value. I believe most people are generally in denial of the fact that they are looking to any number of sources other than God to get their sense of well-being, value or whatever label you want to place on what we hope will make us feel alive and able to grow and thrive. Or maybe we have come to the point where we are looking for things or stimuli to just help us cope and mask the ever-present pain or sense of worthlessness that we cannot shake off. Every addiction is an attempt to address an inner pain that has not been faced clearly and addressed properly, and there are far more addictions in our life than those we typically give that label. Our mind has been deceived into believing that the temporary numbness or intense pleasure that we experience from our preferred addiction of choice is the fix that will somehow give us the resolution or satisfaction that we so desperately need. But of course it is just yet another lie in our confusion of selfish perspective.

But what about the original scenario where my close companion has very different reactions to a particular song than I do which then creates dissonance between us. In situations like this I notice a very distinct feeling of emptiness of maybe even loneliness when I realize that this person who I care for deeply cannot share my deep, positive emotional reaction to a piece of music due to what they consider as a negative experience with that same music. I am left feeling that I cannot share my heart with them at a level that I long to be able to do because of their antagonism toward something that I find so fulfilling. To put it rather bluntly, that bothers me a lot and makes me feel alienated and potentially even resentful.

But then the inevitable next question asserts itself – why am I bothered by that? I have to stop and think about that because there is likely more than one reason and also because I am maybe afraid to express some of my reasons for fear of ridicule or shame from others. In the way this world is set up, even our livelihood is often affected by how our set of likes and dislikes line up with enough others around us to make us “successful”, both socially and even financially. Those who seem to listen to a different drummer are not well received or compensated for their efforts to share their views with those around them. Not fitting in affects all areas of life which creates intense incentive to simply conform and become squeezed into the mold of those around us as Paul says in Romans 12:1.

What difference does it make if I cannot emotionally synchronize with my close friend while listening to one of my favorite songs? How far can I go in trying to change their opinion and feelings to align more closely with mine? Or how right is it to simply go off and find others who more closely share my feelings and reactions and preferences with which to keep company instead?

Sharing deep emotional experiences with others is an intense bonding episode. As such, we want to be able to do it with people that we already love and want to feel even closer to. There is usually nothing wrong with forming new attachments to others who share our passions, but that does not address our need to bond more closely with those who do not share a particular enjoyment that brings us deep inspiration. How am I to relate to this?

I believe there is much more here than what I can see right now. However, there is a factor embedded in here that I have not explored very much yet. It is the unconscious expectation that we can receive something life-giving, something that will transmit into our souls that spark of energy and vitality that we are all designed to long for and desire and seek. I don't think that most people are even aware of this desire very much at the conscious level but it is ever-present in all of our lives.

This inner drive to find and increase our sense of aliveness is displayed in nearly every aspect of our lives, and I believe it is revealed in some respects that many find shocking. I believe that many of the behaviors that most people find reprehensible in the lives of others are simply attempts to get life through illegitimate means. This intense desire to increase our sense of aliveness is really condensed well in the word “lust”. I realize that this word is typically associated with sexual issues, but in fact its primary meaning is an intense desire to have something – anything – immediately. I have written about this before and have discovered very enlightening statements that help me to understand it better.

Lust, like pretty much everything else in this distorted world, is a counterfeit of something very genuine and healthy that God designed into our original creation. We are supposed to desire life with intensity and long for life-giving things. God designed the whole universe in such a way that all things are supposed to work together for the good of everything else and everyone else when synchronizing properly under the natural and moral laws under which they were created. Selfless love and service is the true economy of heaven and is what we are all designed to thrive within. Our needs are to be met by others and we are to give and serve others in joyful, self-forgetting love and with passion.

All of this activity and joy was designed to be coordinated by the original Designer who alone is the original Source of the life that flows from one being to another, from one part of creation to the rest. But it all works effectively and flawlessly only when those involved recognize that God is the loving Source of all life and everything and everyone else are simply intermediate channels through which the life of God is to flow. Whenever we allow our spirit or mind to think that the object, experience or person is a source of life for us without believing and living in the greater context of ultimate trust in the God who provided this resource for us, we will unwittingly in our hearts create a god of the thing from which we are trying to extract life for ourselves.

Whenever a person thinks that they can feel more alive by hurting another person, in reality they are trying to extract the essence of aliveness from that person to make themselves feel more powerful or more alive. Whenever a person shames others it is really an attempt to feel more valuable themselves by contrast. Whenever a person uses deception, force or manipulation to take advantage of others, be it financially, socially, sexually or emotionally, they are trying to satisfy a deep hunger to find a source of life that may make them feel better inside if even only for a few moments.

All of these choices and activities are rooted in beliefs deep inside the person that are counterfeits of true principles by which we were designed to live and to enjoy life. Our dysfunctions are driven by lie-based thinking that feels and seems very true and reliable to us. Deception never feels like it is false but feels very true and reliable until enough light of truth is allowed into our souls to expose the counterfeit beliefs that we have trusted in for most of our life. Most people really do not realize how many false ideas they have about how to feel more alive, they just follow their feelings or formulas depending on whether their nature is bent toward right brain deceptions or left brain deceptions.

So how does this apply to my first example of wanting to have a closer bonding experience of sharing my deep emotional appreciation of a favorite piece of music with a friend who thinks it is long past its prime? I think it is very helpful and enlightening for me to remind myself that the music and the musicians who perform it are only channels of life and not sources of life for me. When I remind my heart that the intense enjoyment that I feel when I listen with my heart wide open to the words and the deeply enriching music that so fills my spirit with unspeakable passion, that the music itself can never be trusted or relied upon to be a genuine source of real life for me no matter how much my intense feelings tell me to the contrary. If I insist on looking past the music (or even through it) to the God who originally inspired that music and musician to convey to me a very tiny part of the much greater passion and love that He has in store for me by means of many other sources, then I will not have my heart attached to the music itself but will direct it to be more attached and bonded by this experience to the Real Source, the only reliable Source of all life.

I don't believe this is just an incidental concept that is just a piece of nice theology. I believe that it is a fundamental and crucial truth that needs to be far more clear in my heart in relationship to everything that causes me to feel alive. I was created to enjoy life, to pursue life, to desire life and love and joy. There is nothing wrong with those desires, but I must be aware of the subtle counterfeits that are constantly trying to deceive me into believing that they can provide me life and invite me to, in essence worship the channels in place of God. For worship is what we all do all the time. Worship is the very act of looking to anything or anyone as a source of making us feel more alive, more happy or more valuable. As soon as we fail to see God behind every source of life He has provided for us and look to the person, object or activity itself as our source, then we have entered into the arena of worshiping false gods. And this is something we do far more than any of us realize. A famous theologian centuries ago got himself in a lot of hot water when he declared that every man who went into a house of prostitution was really looking for God. But he was really trying to articulate this very point.

In the situation with my close friend I ponder how I might relate to our difference of feelings. I want to share a deep bonding experience of mutual, intense enjoyment of something that makes me feel very alive together with them. That person has very different feelings about that song and cannot bring themselves to appreciate and share my experience. I have to choose to let go of that particular desire and leave it for some other time or with another person who is more in tune with my emotions. But I can also pray for the synchronization of God's Spirit to bring my heart and my friend's heart into closer unity through some other channels that are better suited to knit our hearts together. I need to keep a loose hold on the things that I feel strongly about and seek to find what is nourishing to the soul and heart of my friends (and even enemies). I can ask God to use me to be a channel of life-giving energy in some way that meets some empty part of other people's hearts in ways that are more enriching and satisfying to them.

God, keep my heart open to the channels you have for us that we often ignore or overlook. Your deepest desire is to impart real life into our hearts and lives and souls and bodies. Help me to be more aware of the ways and means that you have to channel life into me and transform me today into a more open channel of blessing to others. Fill me with Your grace, Your compassion, Your perspective of everyone I touch today. Cleanse me of the lies and the false gods that so fill my imagination with false promises of life. Make me real, alive and thriving in the strength of Your joy.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Notes From Inside My Head

This title is not to be confused with a blog site of the same name which I enjoy reading on a regular basis. But it seems like a good description for what I have to share right now.

We have started reading a book we got from the library called Healing Your Family History by Rebecca Linder Hintze with the forward written by Stephen Covey. We have not gotten too far into it but it is already obvious this is a keeper. I think we are going to have to find where to purchase one soon because we are going to want our own copy.

In what we have read and discussed so far we have learned that this is an excellent resource for unlocking a great deal of issues that plague the minds and hearts of everyone. It is very practical ideas and guidance for facing assumptions not only from our past but from our culture and our families. If a person is serious about experiencing real improvement and change in their life I would recommend getting this book. Of course, like so many other things it will only work to the extent that a person is willing to be honest about what is going on inside and not just go through motions. But this is a good forum for facing that issue as well.

We have had a lot happen over the past weekend that I do not yet feel free to talk about to the whole world yet – not that anyone other than two or three people even look at this except by accident. I will say that I have visited a lot of my personal emotions in some very intense ways that I do not normally do that has left me wondering where or who I am at times. There were moments when I hoped there might be some major breakthroughs that never materialized, at least at the conscious level. On the other hand I believe after some hard work and painful but careful exchanges that significant progress in some of my relationships has occurred.

While I could wish that there was much more taking place I also remember that God is very thorough in the work He does at the heart level which sometimes takes much longer to accomplish than the surface job that we may be looking for. Man looks on the outward appearances but God looks at the heart. I want to allow my heart to catch up to many of the things my head has been learning about over the past few years, but that is an area that is difficult if not impossible to direct easily. Because the heart growth is much more dependent on relationships for real progress than head knowledge requires, I have a much more difficult time growing in this area because my relational skills are so stunted.

I was faced this weekend with opening up a somewhat recent very painful emotional wound and revisiting it for the sole purpose of attempting to bring some healing and restoration into it. I am trusting that the process of healing has been initiated and will progress under the influence of God's Spirit doing whatever it is that He does behind the scenes, but that will require much more time and transformation on the part of others besides just myself to accomplish what I hope to see take shape. Of course I do not have to remain unhealed just because others might choose to remain stuck in certain thinking patterns and try to hold me hostage. To wait until they are willing to heal would be willing bondage to someone else's triggers and making myself a hostage to their growth schedule. I can and am determined to continue my own healing journey with or without others around me who may be involved. But it is always much better when the healing and growth can be mutual and parallel in the lives of people involved in incidents of pain and misunderstanding.

In light of what is happening in this area I find it significant that we started reading this book at this time in our life. It is bringing yet another approach to solving the real issues of life that so often hold us hostage for many years and yet confirms very closely other methods that we are already familiar with. Nearly every ministry and source that we have involved ourselves in over the past few years is so similar in many ways that it becomes clear that they are all modeled in some way on the ancient principles through which God designed for us to find healing and growth in our lives and hearts.

Right now I have been out of work for a number of weeks which has allowed me a lot of time to fill my mind with good things to feed my soul and spirit if I choose to do so. I have tried not to waste that opportunity and have been learning a great deal on a number of different fronts. I am also trying to put into practice the things I have learned for years about how to relate properly to situations like this in true faith and not indulge in fear or stress. I am realizing that the mind is a very slippery thing to steer and that living in proper relationship with God and with others takes a lot of openness and willingness to revisit many assumptions. That's where I am presently living inside my head right now.

Friday, January 25, 2008

37 Years Ago Today...

It may appear that I have quit writing so much recently. Actually that is not the case. It is just that I am processing something very much in writing that is still a little too personal to post for all the world to see at this point. I suspect that maybe soon I will go back and bring much of it out and post it as another inductive study, probably on my other site, Deeperword.

My study began earlier this week when I came under strong conviction of the presence of bitterness in my life that I need to face more decidedly and find freedom from. The following text came to my mind from Hebrews 12, See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. (Hebrews 12:15 NRSV) As a result I decided to spend whatever time was needed to explore the context of this verse to see if God would show me some of the reasons, the roots for the bitterness that is poisoning my life and my relationships.

Most of this bitterness is so ever-present and feels so normal that I cannot even recognize it as bitterness. To me I guess that it just seems to be what I consider normal because that is all I have ever known as the context for life. It is only when I begin to get a glimpse of what life might be like outside my own paradigms that I begin to sense that maybe what I always assumed was normal is maybe very warped perceptions of reality. As I get more acquainted with the feelings that my heart has had for most of my life, as it begins to feel safe enough to slowly allow my left brain to catch a glimpse of it here and there, I am sickened at all the confused ideas and assumptions about God that are drawn from much of my painful past.

The right brain, what I consider the seat or processing center of the heart, does not work logically like the left brain and so its conclusions are not easily understood by a left-brain dominant thinker. But the Spirit of God has been working for quite awhile to awaken some of the very dark places of my heart and my past in order to bring light and healing and life into the dead places within me. As I have spent the past few days meditating and writing what I am learning from Hebrews 12, I can see that this whole chapter has a wealth of resources for uncovering many places from which bitterness can spring up. It also has a lot of things to say about how to counteract and receive healing for those roots. I am carefully working my way through this chapter each day listening for whatever God wants to show me and trying to not let my head get too far ahead of my heart. That means that I need to stop at times and just listen to both my heart and for anything the Spirit wants to show me that cannot come from logic or exegesis.

Soon after I woke up this morning I began to thank God for what He is doing in my life. As I felt the surge of strength from the act of gratitude beginning to lift my spirit, I remembered that exactly 42 years ago this morning I had one of the major turning points in my personal relationship with God just after I woke up. I will never forget it for it marked a sharp turning point for me to reject a life of suffocating false religion that had by that time very nearly driven me to literal insanity.

It would likely take too long to explain it all, but I will give just a little background. Over the previous few years leading up to my 16th birthday I had become increasingly what I would perceive as paranoid-schizophrenic. I had a very intense hatred toward God that was fueled by my increasing hatred toward my Dad who was at a loss as to how to force me to be a good boy and a Christian. But overriding that, and again reflective of my relationship with my Dad, I was even more terrified of admitting that I hated God or my Dad for fear of unimaginably dire consequences. I could not even allow my thoughts to entertain an awareness of my hatred for very long for fear that I would be punished even more severely, so I worked incessantly to be what I now see as the perfect hypocrite.

While I writhed with resentment and bitterness on the inside against the lack of love and nurture and the abusive “discipline” I experienced, at the same time I spent increasingly nearly every waking moment trying to eradicate “sin” from my conscious mind and heart in an attempt to appease a threatening deity who was keeping close watch on me in order to discover any excuse to keep me out of heaven and fry me in the fires of hell for the slightest infraction.

And when I say every waking moment I mean that quite literally. By the time I was around 12 or 13 the intensity of these opposing forces within me had become agonizing and ever-present. On the one hand I was increasingly desiring to rebel, to enjoy the alluring pleasures of sin, sex and “rock” music. I would sneak out my window at night, crawl across the length of our steep roof and slide down the porch posts to go the the neighbors house to watch television until late at night. This allowed me to have feelings of relief or escape from my inner turmoil but at the same time added to my increasing sense of guilt and fear. When my sister finked on me one night and got me in trouble with my Mom who put a stop to my escape outlet (that is a whole other story full of emotions) I was left with an even more closed heart filling up with explosive resentment.

My mind was always under rigid control from my religious training that was deeply ingrained in my psych and kept me from indulging in many things that my flesh increasingly craved to do. This battle was considered by most all the religious people around me to be just the normal struggle of being a Christian, at least that what I assumed. But I now realize that what I was experiencing was completely unknown to anyone else and was far more severe than anyone imagined. Of course it was fueled by the legal approach to living the Christian life. Almost no one understood the importance of having an intimate relationship with a loving God as the foundation of the Christian life before trying to work on behavior. That was considered to be a dangerous heresy by my father and probably many others in the church, so I was left with a battle between two false gods inside of my soul that nearly caused me to lose my sanity.

The symptoms of this duel inside of me was that every time a thought would come to my mind that I felt might be considered wrong by God that I was required to confess it and beg for forgiveness from God. If I did not deal with every potential sin, as well as dig up every past mistake and sin and extract forgiveness for all of those too, then I would lose all hope of salvation. Of course, there was also the constant threat that at any moment my life could be snuffed out by an accident and I would face my eternal fate based on my “standing” with God at that particular moment. Hence, the intense need to keep up to date to that very second with all my confession and forgiveness routine. It became almost a game of life and death, a duel between me trying to perfect myself through “contrition” and confessions and God on the other side always looking for that one little sin that would give Him excuse to nail me to the wall and justify Him keeping me out of heaven. This was the agony of mind that kept me occupied for literally maybe 4 years or so of my life.

(Ironically, this type of thinking and view of God is almost identical to that of the great church that was so derided as the epitome of false religion by most members of my own church. I had become just like those I was taught to despise.)

I can remember driving my bicycle in traffic and repeatedly closing my eyes and making very fast confession/begging-forgiveness prayers hopefully fast enough to get my eyes open again before getting creamed by a car or running into something. This may sound hilarious, but to me it was deadly serious. And why did I close my eyes while riding my bike? Because God would be upset if I didn't close my eyes when I prayed. And that would give Him yet another excuse to accuse me.

There are many others things I could describe about that time in my life, but I think you can get the gist of what I was going on inside of me. As the guilt and fear and terror extended their tentacles within me, my heart continued to seethe with more and more anger and rage at the unfairness and oppression of it all. But then I would try to suppress my anger for fear of God's wrath and the internal conflict continued to escalate. There was no one that I could trust to share what was going on inside and I felt very isolated. In my frustration I longed to be free of this conflict and just enjoy sin and the seeming relief that it promised to give me, but my religious brain was so strong with fear that it prevented me from acting out what my heart desperately wanted to indulge in. I suppose that result was considered a success by those who believed that fear was the right motive for preventing sin in our lives.

This brings me to my 16th birthday and what happened that cold morning when I woke up on the top bunk in a dormitory in Tennessee. I had been thinking about all of this inner activity and had begun musing that maybe there was something wrong with my Christian experience. I didn't really notice anyone else going through what I was experiencing and my paranoia was keeping me from having any healthy relationships. In the back of my mind the idea began to grow, though very, very small, that maybe, just maybe God did not intend for me to live this way all of my life.

That thought had all the hallmarks of a dangerous heresy and I dismissed it many times in fear of Divine punishment, but it continued to resurface. Finally that morning I decided to face myself square on and make a determined decision as to how I was going to continue to live.

I have always been a rather pragmatic, left-brain dominant person and as such I believed that a birthday was really an arbitrary assignment, and event only meaningful by artificial designation. A person really is no different on their birthday than they would be waking up on any other day – that simply makes sense. But that morning something else woke up inside of me and began to question my logical mind and ask, “What if I am wrong? What if turning 16 really is significant and I am just too pragmatic to admit it? What if that popular saying, 'turning 16 and never been kissed' actually had some hidden meaning in it that most of us don't know about? What if 16 was an important number in people's lives?What if I do have the option today to actually become a completely different person? What if I really have the option to make a radical decision that violates everything my tyrannical mind insists is true?”

These thoughts were terrifying to me but at the same time very appealing. I was exhausted from all the years of fighting inside and I had come to the point where I felt that maybe hell would not be much worse than living life as I was. If this is what it took to get into heaven then maybe it was just too much work, too high a price to pay. But that other thought that had been lurking in the dark shadows of my mind trying to escape extermination by my dogmatism was starting to glow brighter. What if, by some outside chance that I didn't know about yet, God actually had a better way to live that was not so exhausting and debilitating? What if He would actually allow me to make some mistakes without viciously attacking me or abandoning me altogether? What if He was actually different than everything my mind had assembled together in fear and dread?

As I lay there that morning waiting to get out of bed and pondering what I should do about this problem, I finally made up my mind that I was going to take what felt like the highest gamble of my life and not reflexively pray, confess and beg forgiveness for every “wrong” impulse that might cross my mind that day. I had actually come to the point that I included every temptation as something that had to be confessed as well as known sins because I was not sure where God drew the line between an impulse toward an evil thought and entertaining that evil thought, so I treated them all the same just to play it safe. You can imagine how many things that could involve for an early teenager with hormones beginning to fill his system and an equal amount of guilt for every feeling or desire for love or sex. I was about ready to either change the way I related to God or begin to consider suicide to escape the pain. And suicide was not an option either because God would punish me even more for that too.

So I made my fateful decision with a great deal of trepidation and that whole day I resisted every impulse to compulsively “pray”. I began to notice how much extra time I had to actually interact with other people and how much relief I began to feel inside. And most importantly, I sensed at some deeper level a feeling of confirmation from somewhere outside myself that I had made a right decision and that indeed, God had something much better for me than the hell I had been experiencing for so many years. I had turned a corner in my life the day I turned 16 and had begun to reject the false image of God that had been painted in such terrifying colors in my heart.

I wish I could say that I saw a much clearer picture of a loving God and my life was dramatically transformed, but that did not happen. I spent many more years in a legalistic relationship with God, though not to the extent that I had up to that point. There were millions of lies about God that still blackened His face that took many years to slowly unmask and address, but the process had started and the progress began.

I am still in the process of unmasking many of those early lies that still cause me trouble and confusion. I am sure many who read what I write or listen to me very long can pick up on the intensity with which I address certain issues. That comes from my anger about all the lies that have kept me away for so long from the One who could have made so many years of my life so much sweeter if I had not been so darkened in my heart and mind. I still resent the fact that it is so difficult for me to become free of many lies yet today that remain hidden in my heart and damage my relationships. I am ever seeking any means or ministry that shows promise of effectively exposing and bringing healing to these lies and their resultant dysfunction in my life. Some have even called me a “ministry junkie”. That is the journey that I am still on today, learning to reject the distorted images of God and seeking to see the real truth in His face.

So now you know what happened 37 years ago today, for what its worth.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Elements of Civilization vs. Creation

As I am learning and assimilating concepts that are important to me I find it helpful to write them down. This helps clarify them better in my own mind and helps synchronize my left and right brain a little bit better. Sometimes these big thoughts sit in my mind and continually rearrange their components during the day until they become more clear to me and I feel the need to capture what is emerging.

The following principles were ones I first heard about a number of years ago and have revisited the subject more intensely the past few weeks. This morning I felt compelled to simply contrast the two opposing systems that have so much influence on every aspect of life for every one of us. It is the conflicting, underlying perceptions of reality as presented by God and presented by Satan and most of society as we are familiar with it. Sometimes I call it the false trinity – this system we take so much for granted. But as we learn more about the true principles that this false system attempts to mimic and counterfeit, its ugliness and emptiness becomes more evident. Here is a side by side comparison of the root ingredients of these two diametrically opposed ways of viewing life and reality.

Creation – also known as Grace – is the full provision of all the needs of God's created beings without earning it. We depend on and cooperate with God's means to take care of us because He loves us and promises to take care of us. He can be trusted to keep His word. This eliminates the need for ownership or exclusiveness with any of His blessings as we share everything with others. In unselfish love and sensitive awareness for the needs and desires of others we make available the fruit of our labor or the blessings under our influence for them while they are doing the same for us. But this is not based on a contract mentality but on a spirit of covenant commitment.

Economics – the artificial assignment of some measurement of value to everything. This also leads to possessive feelings of ownership and exclusivity and the desire to have our needs and desires met ahead of others. As our possessiveness increases so does our fear that others may want to take away our stuff so we use our economic advantage to leverage our power and create laws that will protect our possessions from others. This allows us to culture our selfishness and achieve more and more power over other people's lives. Our relations with others are based on contracts whereby we only trust others to the extent that they can benefit us.

Marriage and family relations – this is the model upon which all created beings in the universe were designed to relate to each other and to God. Selfless love was to be the underlying motivation in every interaction with others so that joy and happiness would continually thrive and grow for eternity. In this arrangement there is no need for artificial rules any more than there is need to see the bones of the body externally. Selfless love inherently has the structures built in that are needed for harmony and unity. Self-control and self-discipline are a natural fruit of the Spirit of God within our hearts so there is no need for external controls to create conformity through force or fear. Love is the fuel and the adhesive that bonds everyone together as they all live in perfect freedom and joy from their hearts.

Law – an artificial system of external controls needed to forcibly bind together diverse and selfish people to create the apparatus for a functional society. Rules are created for the benefit of the economically advantaged to force the rest into compliance with schemes designed to reinforce the artificial structures of society. Laws and rules because they are inherently weak, have to be propped up with arbitrary punishments attached to them or they generally become useless. Punishments depend on sufficient amounts of fear of some form of death or pain to be effective and furthermore have to have the third leg of this counterfeit system in place to implement them – Kingship. Laws must have enforcers who are willing to heartlessly give greater priority to artificial, external fabrications of structure over concern for the hearts and lives of living souls.

Sabbath – the greatest anti-slavery principle ever instituted by God to remind us of our proper relationship to Him and to all the rest of creation. The Sabbath reminds us that we are all equally valuable in the mind and heart of the One who created all of us. While we may have different positions and unique gifts and personalities, we are all on the same plane in value and are infinitely loved and cherished by our Creator. The Sabbath forbids us to even exploit the animals to our advantage, much less any other humans. It also reminds us that God has not even set Himself aloof from us but in the Sabbath has placed Himself on the level playing field, so to speak, with the rest of His creation in resting together. While this does not make Him less powerful or less Godly, it invites all of creation to participate in loving and respecting each other on an equal level as far as value is concerned. God did not value His own life over ours and through that example shows how we are to relate to Him and to each other. The Sabbath is a time of reminding everyone of the key elements of true reality as God perceives it.

Kingship or hierarchy – the artificial and external assignment of varying degrees of value and importance to humans, animals and generally everything living, but especially humans. This progressively intensifies the hardening of our hearts and the externalization of our perception of reality. This is the system whereby we believe that some people are more valuable than others. As this disease progresses it results in the thinking that allows people to consider some to be heroes to the point of worship as gods, and others to be considered as things or bodies to be exploited for selfish advantage without any compassion or guilt. Most of our concepts of authority are rooted in this kind of thinking – the exploitation of some for the benefit of others. This is the outgrowth, as well as the means, of enforcement of the first two legs of this trinity. It results in viewing others as obstacles for us to overcome in our clamoring to rise above them in value or importance. This is embodied most succinctly in the phrase, “survival of the fittest”. It is reinforced by the system of artificial or positive law and is leveraged by the power of economics.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Seven Devils

Yesterday I read a book that I just purchased from Amazon.com. It is a used book now out of print that was recommended by a professor that I have been learning a great deal from recently. It also confirms very well the things I have been learning from the Theophostic ministry about how lies in our hearts are necessary before Satan can have permission for demonic activity in our life.

The lady about whom this book was written looked back over her life and saw how she had become possessed of seven demons and observed how and when each one had taken up residence in her life. This story on the surface does not appear to have any obvious demonic demonstrations involved, but under the surface of what looks like a typical life, both worldly and then religious, it is revealed what was really going on.

I wanted to take the time this morning to list out the identity and nature of these demons and their lies that she identified because I believe that it is very important and helpful to be more cognitively aware of these deceptions. While I do not believe that it is terribly helpful to spend a lot of time dwelling on the dark side, it is also important to not be ignorant of Satan's devices. (2 Cor. 2:11, Eph. 6:11)

These are taken from the book, A Heart of Flesh by LaVonne Neff. It is a story about Rebecca, a Russian girl of an immigrant Jewish family who had a very physically abusive childhood and a very colorful life. She identified very intimately with the life of Mary Magdalene and in this book identified the nature of the seven demons which over time came to possess and control much of her life. Here is a list of the seven demons and the lies which allowed them to maintain residence in her heart.

  1. “People are just things so you can treat them that way. People are to be valued only for what they can do for you. If they do you harm, they can be shed casually, like a sweater on a hot day.” (p.56, 57)

  2. Covet material things themselves. This works very closely with the first demon. “You can use people as things to get money to get their things. Get everything you want in material possessions to make you happy.” (p. 58)

  3. The family name for this series of demons is Proponents of Bodies as Things. It usually involves sex but it can range from having sex with every meal to believing that sex itself is a dirty word. He works with demon 2. “You deserve to have fine clothing and a good time and I know how you can get them.” The person uses other people as things and turns their own body into a thing to earn money for the material things they no longer can live without. (p. 58, 59)

  4. “Life itself is a thing.” This is a brother of the 3rd demon, part of the Bodies are Things family. This allows one to abort a fetus as just another thing or to take a life, whether your own or another's. (p. 61)

  5. “You can succeed in being good yourself. You can reform your life – you have what it takes inside of you. God is stern and harsh and just, but He will see what a fine person you really are down deep where it matters, and He will reward you for your efforts. If you can be good like the rest of them, God will surely notice you and love you. But you will have to work harder than they ever did because you have been worse than they ever were. Don't let your guard down, because God is interested only in people who behave. If you falter, He will kick you onto the trash pile. Work – work harder!” This demon says that God thinks of people as things. (p. 63)

  6. “Promises are things.” This builds on the demons who taught that bodies are things and people are things. “A promise is good when it serves you and makes your life easier. But when it gets in the way of a good time, of your deep needs, then it should be discarded. Don't live your life on the promises you made to a community, or even to your spouse. Promises are only a tool for helping you get what you want.” (p. 63, 64)

  7. “You've done it this time. You've gone just a bit too far. Look at what you've done. For once in your life you had the opportunity to start over, to live a good life, to come clean. And you botched it. You're finished, completely, totally finished. There's no hope left for such as you. You might as well just give up and do what comes naturally, because you'd better believe that God won't look at you in your condition.” (p. 64, 65)

What I find helpful is to realize the falsity in many of these lies that seem to feel true. Exposing them to the light for what they really are as deceptions is helpful to see by contrast what the real truth is. I highly recommend this book. It is a very fascinating story and very easy to read. I was surprised how quickly I finished it but I know it is going to have a lasting impression on me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Honor Your Father...

Yesterday I was working at the church and school near where I lived growing up and where my parents spent the rest of their lives as well. I was disassembling some cabinets that my own Dad had likely installed years before and discovered a strange setup that I suspect he may have done. A wire was run inside and through the back part of the cabinets from one side to the other and connected somehow to a switch mounted just inside the door of the last cabinet. On the end of the wire where it began was a plug that was plugged into a receptacle on the wall and at the other end was another receptacle mounted in the far side of the last cabinet. The switch was designed to turn off one half of the receptacle and had scotch tape over the switch to prevent anyone from turning it off.

It became pretty obvious why the tape was on the switch when I found what was plugged into the receptacle, although it did not make a lot of sense to me. A refrigerator and a dehumidifier were plugged into the receptacle, so I suspect that if the switch was turned off there was a good chance that the refrigerator would go off and everything inside would be spoiled.

As was my typical reaction to such discoveries, I began to mumble to myself about how ridiculous and amateur this was and was reflective of the kind of thing my Dad would do. He was known for things like usually cutting off the ground spade on most of his extension cords so they could be plugged into the old-style two-pronged receptacles. He was very much a handy-man in some areas like electricity and plumbing and had often taken things into his own hands to install or repair.

I too have become much like him in learning a broad array of skills in different areas of the construction industry. In fact my Dad often told me that I should learn everything about as much as possible for it would serve me well later in my life and that is how I have ended up in the remodeling business. But I viewed myself as being more advanced than some of the seemingly crude practices of my Dad and I have sometimes thought a little, maybe demeaningly of him for doing things that seemed like a shortcut that was not as safe or advanced as they should be. This wiring job seemed a classic example of that.

As I was thinking these things while trying to disassemble the wires and get the cabinets apart so I could reinstall them somewhere else, a strange feeling began to come over me suddenly. I began to realize how negative my feelings are when I think these kinds of thoughts about my Dad and secondly I realized how easy it would be for my own son to have the same kind of attitudes toward many things that I do if he were to look them over. Then I thought how I might feel inside if I were to hear him express his dim view of my lack of skills and realized how put down or discouraging that would make me feel.

Of course, by extension I then realized that if my Dad were still alive and here watching me work that my thoughts and attitudes about his work would likely make him feel put down though he would not likely express it. In fact, if he were there watching the work I was doing to improve the very buildings that he had worked so hard to maintain and improve over the years he would have undoubtedly expressed a great deal of pride in what I was doing and would have been complimenting me on my skills and making me feel really good about myself. At this I began to feel really ashamed of myself.

All at once it became much more clear how much resentment and negative thoughts still hold sway in some unexposed dark corners of my mind about my own Dad, even though I have tried to let go of them and have chosen to forgive the abusive and neglectful mistakes he made while raising me as a child. As I thought about these things, that by now I realized were definitely being brought to my attention one by one by the Spirit of God, the fifth commandment flashed across the screen of my memory. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12 NKJV)

I suddenly realized with a surge of tears that I have not honored my Father and Mother very much in the way that I think and talk about their faults much more than their strengths, especially my Father. Conviction grabbed hold of me and I immediately confessed and agreed with the conviction and embraced it. I sensed that I have been still living under a curse because of this. I do not want to live in this darkness any longer, it has been poisoning my life far too many years and I want to live in the light of heaven instead. I want to – I choose to embrace my opportunity for freedom each time conviction offers it to me so I pleaded with God not to stop the conviction but to intensify it as necessary to help me become completely free.

At that point I was able to suddenly begin to have new feelings and memories about my Dad and remember him as a man who was someone I could be very proud to be his son. I felt impulses of desire to find ways to really honor this man who had worked so hard to overcome immense difficulties and enormous obstacles to raise a family under very difficult circumstances and with great personal handicaps. He had no father to mentor him and his mother had been herself a negative example of parenting. On top of that he had been very sickly growing up and had nearly died a number of times because of that. All of his life he had felt inferior and at a disadvantage to most everyone else but in spite of many odds had worked very hard to educate himself as best as possible and learn how to become a productive man and a decent Father and provider for his family.

Since he never had many advantages he had to work extra hard to just break even. This was also during some of the very difficult years of our country where many were struggling just to exist. Then he had to meet jealousy and subversive elements working to ruin his life and his livelihood and his reputation by the very people he was working for and was supposed to trust. In the parenting department, since he had no one to model his life after, he filled his mind with the Word of God and inspired writings trying to figure out the best way he could to raise five children in the fear of the Lord. Yes, he made a great deal of mistakes when it came to expressing love or administering discipline which caused his children to live their later lives with a great deal of baggage to overcome, but considering what enormous disadvantages he himself had come from he likely did much better than the average person would have done.

As I thought about these things while pulling apart the wires and cabinets I wondered what it means to honor someone. The Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins. While I have learned that it is very important to my own healing journey to face clearly the mistakes of the past and those done to me by others, at the same time I also have to learn more about the true nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness is definitely not sweeping under wraps all the mistakes of the past and trying to pretend they did not happen or ignoring them. But after I have faced them squarely, taken full ownership of the pain and processed them correctly in the light of the cross of Jesus, I need to reframe them in ways that I am still learning about.

I also realized that I cannot manage this schedule of personal healing or rush its progress even though I wish I could be free much faster. This conviction happened at just the right time and God used this circumstance to give me an opportunity to deal with this issue more deeply. Somehow I sense that my heart has to “ripen” in my own experience to a point where I am ready for the next lesson; to attempt to jump ahead and try to learn something I am not quite ready for would simply mean I might have to revisit it several more times. I have to trust the timing of God to effect my healing in each part of my heart. My part in this process as I see it right now is to align myself properly with the Spirit of God each day and practice listening more carefully to the very quiet voice of the Spirit so that I can respond and cooperate with the lessons He has waiting for me that day.

I am almost reluctant to even put this into writing because at times it seems that the very act of writing and the necessary process of left-brain distillation needed to write things experienced in the heart tend to interfere with the right brains ability to operate freely without interruption. It is almost like my emotions and heart are stifled and inhibited by the paparazzi effect of being peppered with questions and inquiries from the left brain when they are busy trying to do something more important. Even while I was experiencing this lesson yesterday my left brain was leaping into the experience wanting to collect notes and take snapshots like an aggressive reporter and I had to consciously force it to refrain so that I could continue to listen to what the Spirit might want to further say to me. I did not want to spoil an experience of the heart by allowing the external nature of the left brain to take me out of the proper context of living from my heart.

The main reason I am even writing it now is because I do not want to forget what I feel is a very important experience of the heart and I do not trust my increasingly forgetful brain to remember it very long even though I very much want to keep it. So if I get it down in writing as accurately as my left brain can attempt it then I can go back and review the lessons from my past and refresh them in my heart. And just maybe it will also serve in a small way to begin to honor the man that did so much for me that largely went unappreciated during his lifetime.

It is a very important principle of growth that we are likely to repeat the mistakes of the past if we forget the way God has lead us in our past history.

I want to figure out how to honor my Dad more. I want to live being openly proud of him and feeling good about my memories of him. I began to experience that very much in the afterglow of this experience and I really enjoyed it. It was refreshing and liberating. I suddenly realized much more that he was a man with a good heart in spite of his mistakes and problems. There are many things about him that I can and should be proud of in spite of his mistakes.

It also came to me clearly and strongly when I was thinking about this that the feelings and attitudes that I entertain about my Dad react inside of me with the same effects that they would have had on him. In a strange sort of way he is still alive as an inescapable part of myself. Because I see so much of my Dad in my own actions and attitudes, whenever I disparage him I am disparaging his image that is clearly embedded in myself and I make myself feel inadequate and humiliated just as I would him if he were to hear those negative things spoken to his face.

I also realized that my negative and fault-finding habits toward my own Dad as well as toward many others creates the strong potential for a mirror replication of that in my own children and encourage those negative feelings in them toward me, their Dad. I am actually reproducing much of my own baggage that I have held against my Father in the heart of my own children by my fault-dwelling reminiscences about my Dad's faults and failings with me. God have mercy! I knew things were bad in my heart but this is really exposing it more painfully. I need grace and healing and deliverance and thank God He is in that very business full-time.

God, I present myself to You today – right now – in an offering of worship. I give you full access and permission to do whatever You want with me today and continue the work of healing and restoration of You image in me that You are doing. Help me remain tuned and undistracted today so that I do not miss anything Your Spirit is trying to reveal to me about Your heart and Your perspective. Help me to honor my parents in the right way without hiding from their mistakes. Connect me with Your heart of compassion and love and align my thoughts and feelings and attitudes with Your Law – the description of who You are. Fill me with the joy of Your presence today and make me a successful experiment of Your grace – for Your name's sake, for Your reputation.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What About Law?

(This post is in response to a comment on my previous thoughts also posted today. As can be seen, the answer got rather lengthy and I decided to simply put it out as another post instead of having it hid away behind the comments link. For context behind this writing it will be helpful to read the last post as well as the questions raised in the comments on it. I welcome and enjoy the discussion raised by these honest questions.)

Josh, you bring up some very good issues here that I too have struggled with and am not satisfied to accept simplistic answers to resolve. At the same time, many of these very issues are bothering us precisely because we have accepted far too many simplistic answers already, maybe not knowingly but as a culture and partly just because we are under the delusions from inheriting Adam's fall.

What is becoming much more clear to me very recently and is helping me to make sense of the issues you raise is the great need to delineate a clear difference between legal thinking that was invented by humans very early in the history of the world and natural law or more accurately the basic principles that undergird reality such as gravity and heat and physics etc. The commingling of these two very different constructs has brought about the stress and fear that we feel in trying to sort out much of our misunderstandings. It also greatly contributes to the serious misconceptions about God that distort our views of Him and prevent us from trusting Him more fully.

I understand that much of what I have been saying comes from recently learning a great deal more about the bigger picture behind how we arrived at our current state of culture. Much of the background information from which I am synthesizing many of my comments come from a researcher and professor who has spent years carefully immersing themself in very ancient near-east records of how people thought and lived back then and the cultures that arose through the beginnings of Babylon that gave rise to everything we see today. When we better understand our roots and the context in which much of the Bible was written it is much easier to understand more about our problems. In addition it also sheds a great deal of light onto what God's original design was for us that has become so eclipsed by thousands of years of obfuscation that it is now almost indiscernible.

What is helping me settle and feel comfortable about many of these things that have troubled me for most of my life is the separation and clear descriptions of each of these forms of “law” and the differences between them. As I see which side each element might belong to I then see how the mingling of these concepts has caused so much confusion in my mind and with everyone else. I see this very much also in some of your comments as well and I hope to be able to help maybe a little bit through our dialog to explore these together. I do not want to come across as dogmatic about these things but would like to have the freedom to look at life from different perspectives that may allow more of us to see things from a much more mature vantage point.

A couple days ago a friend told me that they had a discussion in their church about punishment and/or discipline. My friend asked the people what the difference was between the two and basically everyone there could not think of any; they believed that the two were pretty much the same thing. When he asked me the same question I immediately said there is a world of difference between the two. That is because I have been learning so much about the clear differences between these two systems of thought, these two views of reality that dramatically affect how we view God and His dealings with us.

Let me just present some basic foundational principles that must be in place before there can be any meaningful progress in one's understanding of this problem. First and foremost, we have to start with the absolute truth that Jesus put to the disciples that God the Father and Jesus were not any different in the slightest. Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (see John 14:7-11) This has been a tremendous help for me, an anchor and a key that helps unravel many of the mysteries and questions that are raised about God throughout the rest of the Bible. If there is a discrepancy between something we read about God elsewhere in the Bible and what we see demonstrated in the life of Jesus, then the example and words of Jesus must trump every other notion or conclusion that we may have come up with in the past. I cannot emphasize the importance of this principle enough in seeking to understand the real truth about God.

Beyond that, it is going to take time to unpack piece by piece the issues and questions that arise that we don't understand or don't have enough background information to explain. I am finding that the more context I learn about the much bigger picture of the Great War going on since Lucifer revolted in heaven and is conducting in great detail here on earth, the easier it is to see from a bird's eye view so to speak what God's real intentions are and what He is really trying to convey to us. God's motives and communications have often become very garbled because of the sad shape of our mental and emotional receivers over the centuries, but the revelation of God in Jesus and the glory of truth that is being felt in these last days as prophesied in Revelation 18 I believe is leading to an unveiling of many things that have long been misunderstood or repressed.

As I have been shifting my own perceptions about this issue of the role of law lately, I also am starting to see much more clearly how many of the writers of the Bible were trying to convey this same message to us, especially in the New Testament. But because of our addiction to the legal model of thinking we were unable or unwilling to see these passages in this light and so missed the real intent of many of their writings. There are a number of texts that make this issue clear if we are willing to not skim over them lightly in favor of those that appear to support our traditional views.

Let me just mention a couple here. I know that this sounds very strange at first, but allow the Spirit of God to guide all of us as we allow our own minds to ponder things possibly new and strange and potentially more wonderful than we ever imagined.

For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, "Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you." Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward. (Jeremiah 7:22-24 NRSV)

It has been noted by this researcher that when God first brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt He did not want to take the route of bloody sacrifices which were the typical worship methods of all the nations around them. As is made clear in this text, God's original desire was for them to have a radically different relationship with this God quite opposite to the gods that the other cultures felt had to be appeased and placated. God did not want anyone to view Him as an angry, controlling god that considered his human subjects as his slaves to serve his every whim like many of the other imaginary gods were believed to want. Israel's God was exactly like what Jesus portrayed when He stooped to wash the feet of His betrayer just minutes before Judas sold his soul for a few pieces of silver. God desired a relationship of love, not of fear.

But what did the people do with God's offer? They refused it and turned around and built a golden calf representative of power, self-indulgence and oppression – the gods of their former Egyptian slave-masters. They rebelled and looked backward rather than forward and chose to view God through the lenses of appeasement rather than love and service. From that point on, God was forced to spell out what the nature of the sacrifices needed to look like as they choose to follow that model. God was not commanding them to offer sacrifices as is made clear in the above text but was obliged to at least give them directions concerning the sacrificial system that they insisted on following so that their sacrifices did not mimic the satanic views of God nearly so much as did all the other forms of sacrifices modeled by the surrounding cultures.

Let me offer another text from the New Testament. I realize that this is likely raising far more questions than it is answering, but at least it is a beginning of a study that I know can be very fruitful and enlightening if we are willing to follow on with it.

Examine chapter 10 of Hebrews very carefully in light of this new paradigm. It will be seen there that it is even more clear that God never desired the whole system of blood and sacrifices but all along wanted a relationship of love, trust and obedience. But as I was learning these new things myself one verse kept popping into my head that remained unanswered, one verse that I didn't bother to go read for myself in context or I might have seen much sooner the answer I was looking for. The phrase, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” kept coming into my mind and raising objections to all of these things I was learning. But on closer examination a very key phrase at the beginning of that verse explained it more clearly. What it really says is, And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)

God is having to deal with humanity's obsession with law. Because our thinking is so wrapped up in legal offenses and penalties, the only way that we would ever come to believe anything about the real truth of God's feelings toward us was to do things in such a way as to satisfy our demands for what we think is justice. I have not finished following this line of thought completely yet, but I am becoming very suspicious that much of what we impose onto God's image as Divine justice is really our own human demands for satisfaction of our prejudices and beliefs more than the realities of God's own heart. Quite possibly, the only way God could get through our legal mentality that would accept no alternative was to shed His own blood to satisfy our twisted views of justice, not God's. But if that is what it took, then God was willing to do it to turn us around and take a more serious look at the real truth about His unsurpassable love for us.

Because God has made it clear that He never originally desired the sacrificial system but accepted it as a secondary arrangement because of the stubbornness of their evil will,it can began to be seen that the whole system of thinking from a legal model, which is what the sacrificial system is totally based on, is also greatly suspect. Let me offer yet another text that further indicts the system of law as a supplanter of God's original desire for our relationship.

But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. (Romans 5:20 NRSV)

What is very interesting in this verse is that when you look at the original word that was translated “came in”, it denotes an air of stealth. It could be more accurately translated that “law sneaked in with the result that trespass multiplied”. The more that I study carefully the many passages on this matter both in the Old and New Testaments the more clear this issue is becoming with all sorts of very interesting implications.

What is becoming more clear in my mind, especially in the light of the example of Jesus' life, is the unavoidable fact that God has a much better arrangement that He desires to operate His universe within that does not revolve around rules and dictates. This is made clear when we realize the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers. (1 Timothy 1:9) And the lawless and rebellious are soon going to be out of the picture in the near future after the final payment from sin is received. After that point there will be no need for imposed law whatsoever.

This may not clarify the differences between God's “laws” and man's invention of an arbitrary legal system, but it does help to begin to show that God's real purpose for creation did not revolve around a legal mentality and that is not the model He wished to have for His people. Through the glimpse we get into the heart of God through the life and attitudes of Jesus we can see that His real desire was to form bonds of loving relationships with His children and draw them into a life-giving intimacy with Himself.

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1) How much would you know about a tree if all you had ever seen of a tree was a shadow of one? And while it is admittedly necessary to have rules to restrain immature children from hurting themselves or others until they have learned by teaching and example how to live a healthy, inter-connected life within a community, that does not mean that the system of law is God's desire for the long-term. None of us wish for our children to remain immature and dependent on our restrictions for all of their life, that would be a travesty. In fact, healthy parents (where do you find those?) desire a relationship with their children from day one that would not require any restrictions if the child trusted the word and advice of the parents implicitly all along. And the same is true of God's desire for our lives. He wants us to grow up into the full maturity of Christ and no longer remain as children. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ. (Ephesians 4:14-15)

I have not yet fully addressed the issue of punishment verses discipline but I want to do that before too long. Keep reminding me. It is a very important concept to see but must be viewed in the light of the bigger picture so that it makes more sense. I also know this does not really directly address all of the questions about the place of law or the confusion about God's wrath that you raised. But it does give some background and hopefully lay some foundation for further thoughts to be built upon. It is very important to start with the right foundations, otherwise if we put the wrong things at the bottom the other things we place on top may not make sense and will cause continued confusion.

Continue to listen and ponder what God is revealing to all of us as we learn together the wonderful truths about Him that have been hidden or distorted for so long. As we learn these things about God the results will become clear in the way we treat our children, our spouses and all those in our circle of relationships. Thanks for your input and I am still praying for you and your family.