Random Blog Clay Feet: 2008-04
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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Witness of Jacob

I want to finish relaying the experience that happened to me yesterday and that continues today that I partially wrote about in Jacob's False god. Some of these experiences take too long to relay in one posting and so I decided to break this up for the sake of attention span.

Over the past few years I have realized that I can identify with Jacob to a great degree. My false pictures of God are much like his and the strained relationship he had with his dad for most of his life strikingly parallels my own story. I just realized that Jacob's reunion with his dad after his reconciliation with Esau could have possibly been much like my own breakthrough with my dad near the end of his life. And my struggle to find identity, value and respect is very similar to Jacob's story.

Yesterday I felt God speaking to me as I meditated on Isaiah 43. I chose to be very honest about my internal emotions, reactions and resistance and so I stopped and confronted God with my dilemma. I had just read the words, Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you.... (Isaiah 43:4) Wait a minute! I really want to believe that this is how God feels about me, but my gut level feelings always argue against it. Somehow I struggle to sense that this is really how God thinks about me even though my mind can acknowledge that it is theologically true. I can accept that He thinks that way about others, but not about me.

I decided to face these reservations head-on and confess them as unbelief. I have heard that it is important to confess unbelief if one wants to become free from it and I certainly want to be free. So I presented these feelings and beliefs to God and asked Him to remove my unbelief while affirming my desire to believe and trust in His words to me. I want my heart to believe what God wants to say about me, not just my head. I realize that I am still wrestling like Jacob with my false picture of God that still holds me hostage in too many ways.

What I began to sense was the Spirit saying that my resistance to God's blessing and words in my life is not my true identity – that is not who I really am even though that is what is most familiar to me. That identity is coming from my sinful flesh that has masqueraded all my life as being my real identity and has been reinforced by the opinions of others. That is one reason it is so important for me to crucify my flesh, the part inside of my head that always sabotages what the Spirit of God is trying to do and reveal about both myself and about God. Ultimately, either the incarnated Christ living inside of me will be crucified by my doubting, unbelieving flesh or my flesh and its opinions and unbelief will be crucified. They are mortal enemies and cannot live together at all.

This brought to my attention another phrase that has baffled me for many years. When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Mark 8:34 NKJV) I have often wondered what was really meant by this idea of taking up a cross and following Jesus. I have had no shortage of people in my life eager to expostulate on what they thought it meant, but their explanations usually involved reinforcement of performance-based religion and I cannot accept that in light of the real gospel. So I continue to remain open to the real meaning of this phrase.

Someone once explained that the concept here of denying one's self is a direct parallel to the description of Peter denying that he knew Jesus three times during His trial. This would mean that Jesus is asking me to deny that I know myself just like Peter denied that he knew Jesus – vehemently and passionately. In light of the exposure of my counterfeit identity being such a problem in my life, it begins to sound like a really good idea to deny that image as my true identity and discover the real identity that God sees in me even though it may be very unfamiliar to me.

But what about taking up my cross? That is the part that has been even more baffling most of my life. But again, with my increased realization of the problems that my flesh produces in thwarting the progress of God's Spirit in my heart, taking up my cross might just be parallel to Paul's talk of crucifying the flesh and his need to die daily to self. I want to have my flesh and its lies dead so that the resurrected life of the Son of God can be fully manifest in my life and my true identity can thrive and blossom. If that is the real meaning of Jesus' words then they make a lot more sense to me now.

It is only as my flesh is daily crucified that I will be able to have the freedom to follow Jesus in His example of how to live in total abandon to and harmony with God. My heart is a battlefield between my false feelings about God and the truth that the Spirit is always trying to impress on me. To receive truth I must be willing to deny and crucify my resistance to that truth and label it correctly as not coming from the true heart that God has implanted in me. That is not my identity no matter what I feel or what anyone else claims against me. My true identity and value is what the One who created me says about me and I have to choose to accept it on the reliability of His integrity alone.

As I read on further in the chapter I was suddenly confronted with the revelation that God saw my struggle with this false identity. The description from verses eight and nine are of those who view God through their own perceptions and confused ideas instead of believing what He says about His feelings toward them.

Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, and the deaf, even though they have ears. All the nations have gathered together so that the peoples may be assembled. Who among them can declare this and proclaim to us the former things? Let them present their witnesses that they may be justified, or let them hear and say, "It is true." (Isaiah 43:8-9)

What I heard in my spirit was that this is a description of those who attempt to justify their opinions about God instead of listening to and believing the true witnesses of God as noted in the last phrase. These are those who insist that their distorted views of God are the right ones, but God sees these people as blind even though they have eyes and deaf even though they have functional ears. It doesn't even matter if the whole world believes these things about God; that does not make them any more true. The only reliable truth about God is what He declares. Why should we try to argue that our opinions about how God feels about us are more accurate than what He says about Himself? Do I really think I know God's feelings and attitudes better than He does?

God turns it around in this passage and puts the focus back on me. Let them hear and say, "It is true." "You are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange god among you; so you are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "and I am God. Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?" (Isaiah 43:9-13)

As I looked over this chapter more carefully I began to realize that this passage is God's declarations about the correct perception of identities, both His and ours. All through this chapter and the surrounding passages God is revealing His passionate heart for His children. What is interesting is the reference in the very first verse to both Jacob and Israel – both names for the very same person. When God looks at me He sees me through heaven's eyes no matter how I perceive myself. But what He deeply desires is that I will accept the truth about Him so that I can more fully accept the truth about myself as declared by Him. The biggest problem I have in accepting my true identity is my confusion about the true identity of God. But the more I learn in my heart the truth about God and all His wonderful attributes, the easier it becomes for my heart to believe what He says about me.

But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, in your mouth and in your heart" – that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9)

God told me that what I am to believe in my heart is the true identities of both Him and myself as revealed in the example and victory of Jesus. Because Jesus has accepted the invitation to live inside of me, then my real identity is going to look strikingly like His.

So what about all the dysfunction that I still find in my life? How can that be denied as being a part of my identity?

God reminded me that the condition of my spirit is something completely separate from my identity and the value of my heart in heaven's eyes. God is not playing a game of amnesia with my faults and sins when I am hidden in Christ. He is actually working from the inside to dissolve all of those problems by transforming me into His image His way. When transformation takes place from the inside instead of focusing on the externals, the results are far more permanent and lasting – eternally lasting in fact.

So when I see the same problems that others see in me, I do not have to go into denial and pretend they don't exist in my life. But I do need to firmly reject all attempts to associate those problems and faults with my identity, value and real self. I cannot control what others think, but I am very responsible for what I allow myself to believe about my heart. Those are all parts of the counterfeit identity straining to assert itself and project itself as the real me while discounting the other self being formed from the image of Christ within. It is a very real and intense battle but I need to keep close to the Spirit and the Word to keep the growth alive and thriving.

Like Jacob, I crave a personal encounter with the God who wants to give me a deep embrace and impart the blessing I crave so intensely. I'm afraid that, like Jacob I may end up fighting Him for awhile because of my past false opinions about Him, but I am so thankful that God did not allow Jacob to lose the fight. God actually declares that Jacob was the winner of a wrestling match with the Almighty. But he did receive a new name out of the ordeal and that is the badge of his real identity. That is absolutely incredulous. And I believe He is eager to do the same with everyone willing to have an encounter with Him in desperation and honesty.

The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. (Isaiah 62:2 NIV)

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it. (Revelation 2:17 NIV)

Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. (Revelation 3:12 NIV)

God, whether I end up fighting You or not, please come and bless me. Impart to me my new name that You have promised to reveal. My concept of what it means to be an overcomer in light of Jacob's encounter with You is so encouraging. My heart craves to know my real identity and to feel honored and loved by You. I ask you to increase my faith and give me a believing heart to allow Your feelings about me to be internalized, experienced and lived out as a true witness for You. Let me hear the testimony of the True Witness and then say, “It is true!”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jacob's False god

I read Isaiah 43 this morning listening for what God wanted to tell me. But as I read I noted that there was the familiar resistance embedded in my heart to really believing that these words apply to me personally. I want to believe them but I have to be honest and admit that there is yet a lot of unbelief inside of me discounting many things God wants to implant deep into my heart.

God is trying to answer my prayers to know my true identity. But then when He says things to show me my true identity I feel unable to receive them fully. That is what is going on as I read this chapter. It reminds me very much of Jacob (mentioned at the beginning of this chapter) who spent a great deal of his life grasping for a sense of value, desiring to be respected and loved but usually going about it the wrong way and ending up in deep relational troubles.

The poor guy – he started out with this reputation from before he was even born. He was found to be fighting with his brother inside of Rebekah's womb. His mother couldn't understand what all the commotion was about so she went to God and asked Him what was going on inside. God shared with her some insights as to the future relationships between her two sons as well as their future descendants. Unfortunately later on both her and Isaac allowed their personal preferences to aggravate the situation and caused a great deal of grief and pain for their whole family.

When Jacob was born he was still having it out with his brother. The Bible says that as Esau was being born Jacob was hanging on tightly to his ankle. He wouldn't even stop struggling long enough to allow his brother be born normally. The tension continued for the rest of their lives and can even be seen yet today in their descendants.

The name Jacob means supplanter and deceiver. How would I like to have a name like that? Talk about a weight to carry around emotionally all your life. With a name and reputation like that it is real hard to feel a sense of positive identity, of being valued by the family or by God. Jacob seemed to have the odds stacked against him from the very get-go and the story of his life demonstrates his life-long struggle to overcome this disadvantage.

But even though Jacob lived many years under the curse of a negative sense of identity, God had implanted a desire in his heart that he pursued, a desire to overcome this curse and discover something better for himself, his real destiny. To the outside world it appeared that he was messing up repeatedly and simply demonstrating the truth of his negative identity embedded in his name. But if one could see inside his heart, even past what he himself could see most of the time, it would be seen that he was really in pursuit of His parent's God and his Creator. What he craved was to replace this false sense of identity with the real truth about himself as seen from God's view. He wanted to feel respected, loved and valued instead of being a person who had to fight with others all the time to get what he needed.

Every time Jacob came to a crisis of identity he tried to figure it out for himself. Many times he resorted to sheer deception, which really was one of his supposed “natural” attributes ingrained in his flesh. Sometimes he would try religion and ask God to help him be successful. He would strike deals, try harder, get mad and be take advantage of. But all through the story one can sense a longing emanating from deep within for fulfillment and a better identity.

But it always appeared that the deck was somehow stacked against him. While his brother seemed to enjoy a wild sense of freedom and could seemingly do anything he set his mind to with abandon, Jacob's life seemed to be one comic tragedy after another. The harder he tried to make things work out right for him the worse things seemed to get in many ways. And always on the inside he was struggling to understand and make sense out of his distorted picture of God.

Why was it that his father could seemingly have such a straightforward, simple, confident relationship with his God while Jacob seemed to bumble from one crazy experience to the next? And while his brother could hardly care less about God while Jacob had an unusually sensitive heart that attracted the sympathy of his mother, his father Isaac always seemed to favor Esau over Jacob. This only added to the confusion in his heart. Isaac seemed enthralled with the wild spirit and adventurous escapades of his reckless and irreligious brother Esau while Jacob increasingly yearned for the blessing of his father that he so much needed but seemed so far away. And all of this in the face of the prophecy given to his mother before their birth that the older would serve the younger. That only seemed to add fuel to the fire.

Jacob inherently knew that he needed a blessing from his dad like every man needs it. He felt shamed and worthless when compared to the bold and macho accomplishments of his obviously masculine, tough brother. How much worse could a person feel? His brother only aggravated the tension by playing up their differences and basking in the favors of their father. Jacob became jealous, fearful and desperate and his mother shared to much in his perspective. As the years of his youth passed, Jacob felt the pain of rejection and fear and worthlessness deepen. He turned to his growing skills of manipulation, enhanced by the shared feelings of his mother who allowed her sympathy for him to separate her somewhat from her husband. The family became divided and the tensions continued to mount. But inside his heart Jacob yearned ever more intensely for that coveted blessing that would impart to him a valuable identity, and he yearned for it with a passionate hunger as intense as the instinct for life itself.

Jacob spent most of his life striving, working, manipulating, cutting deals in his attempt to find his real identity. But time after time, relationship after relationship, he was met with frustration, shame and deceit. As he tried to manipulate others he found himself manipulated. As he attempted to use deceit to get what he needed he was caught in others deceptions. He made bargains with God and with men only to have them come unraveled or circumvented. And by the time he found himself running away from his uncle with a house full of dysfunctional wives and crying children, facing the wrath of a powerful brother who could not let go of his grudge from Jacob's conniving tricks from their youth, Jacob felt he was at the very end of his rope. He had exhausted all of the tricks he could pull out of his bag. He had tried God, tried psychology, tried every means possible to look out for his interests, but inside his heart he was still an empty little boy yearning for the blessing that would impart a positive destiny and identity to him. He craved a dad's affirmation and approval but could never be good enough to earn it. And even though he had stolen what was supposed to be his father's blessing right out from under the nose of his profligate brother, he still could not feel the effects in his heart of that blessing that he wanted more than anything else.

Now he found himself facing all the results of all his messed-up attempts to establish his identity, all coalescing on him at the same time. His brother was coming to get even and potentially kill him. His uncle who could never be trusted and had tricked him out of one of the greatest desires of his heart, the father of his two wives (which was due to his uncle's trickery against him) was not far away after an ugly confrontation. His family was terrified of the mess Jacob had gotten them into, his children were fighting, whining and crying and Jacob's heart was still screaming out for something he just couldn't secure for himself. How much worse could it get?

Jacob had lived his whole life with a skewed picture of God just like I have. He had assumed like most people that he had to earn God's favor, respect and love. Like every male created by God, his greatest need was to feel respected and honored by others, but that was the least that he had ever accomplished. And like every human being he wanted to know that someone valued him, cared about him and believed in him even when the chips were down. But by this time in his life he had tried everything and absolutely nothing had worked out as he wanted it to. His conscience had tormented him for many years, his mind was exhausted trying to come up with yet another workable solution and his heart was amping up the decibels until he could hardly think of anything else.

Why did he still crave the blessing when supposedly he had gotten what he wanted from his father many years ago? Why was his brother so angry about that fiasco when Esau had ended up with all the material possessions of the family anyway? What did Esau care about the spiritual birthright that was part of the blessing? He didn't even care about God and was bold in flaunting a lifestyle in opposition to God's instructions.

Why was everything collapsing in Jacob's life all at the same time? Where was God right now anyway? Was that ladder that he had seen in his dream years ago now broken and out of commission? Had God failed him too? Was it his time to throw in the towel and give up the fight and surrender to death? A sense of immense hopelessness likely filled his mind as he begin to make preparations for the end.

He mentally prepared a list and made instructions to his family and servants to implement tactics to minimize the damage that was likely about to occur. He split up his family into groups and sent them off in different directions based on his own favoritism and preferences in hopes of avoiding losing all of them. He did the best he could to prepare the externals for the worst and then went off alone in the dark to find out where God might be hiding. It was his last, desperate attempt to reach out to God in hopes that God's faithfulness would be more reliable than his own.

Jacob's image of God in his mind and heart was reflective of the beliefs and choices that he had made throughout his own life. His mind believed that one had to earn the love and blessing of God just like he had been treated by his own father. And since Jacob could never even approximate the abilities and charisma that his brother possessed with their father he could never attract the heart attentions of his dad to fill the deep emptiness that haunted his own heart. And this same tension and distance between himself and his dad seemed to parallel how he was sure God felt about him. Everything he had tried to do to earn God' approbation had come apart and now it looked like there would be no more chances. This was likely the last night he would be alive and the last chance to get whatever it was that his heart could not rest without. He wanted a blessing, he needed a better identity, he craved a sense of belonging and value that he had never felt and he wanted it desperately.

As he stumbled through the dark agonizing in fear, in confusion, in loneliness and regret, in longing for someone to love him and just be with him, he suddenly felt arms wrapping themselves around him something like an embrace. Startled, his mind recoiled in terror and alarm and he instantly whirled around in a stance of defensiveness. All of his senses, muscles and emotions came to full alert and he launched himself into the fight of his life. He had no idea who this person was or what their intentions were but he was not about to let them take him out without a fight. He was surprised that he had even allowed them to sneak up on him like this. Why had he let his emotions become so distracting that he had not watched his back more carefully? Once again he had failed to protect himself and this time he threw everything he had into the battle.

If this “enemy” thought Jacob was a wimp he would find out very differently. Maybe it was Esau coming up with a surprise gorilla attack in the dark to get revenge. He assumed Esau still viewed him as the sniveling, weakling little brother who couldn't stand up for himself and was too chicken to fight like a man. Well, if that was the case then Esau would find out what all the years of hard work had done for Jacob's muscles. Jacob was toned and fit and had become a man's man now. He would show this intruder that he had learned to fight and was not afraid to show his stuff. And so the fight was on.

Being a very dark night Jacob could never get a glimpse of who this attacker was. While his emotions of fear pumped his body full of adrenaline and his mind moved quickly to come up with wrestling moves to outsmart this person, his heart was still screaming out in the background with desperation for the recognition and love that it wanted. But his external danger precluded taking time to pray and feel sorry for himself and he battled on all through the night. This guy was tough though, and Jacob seemed to make no headway in tiring him or out-maneuvering him. While Jacob tried every tactic of fighting known to him this stranger seemed to almost enjoy himself while tangling with Jacob's strong body. Something was very strange about this fight. This stranger was not fighting like anyone Jacob had ever encountered. He seemed to ignore Jacob's missteps and vulnerable moves that would have given a normal aggressor opportunity for advantage. And he seemed to be almost choosing to measure his strength to Jacob's and there was something else happening that was extremely strange.

All through the night as they wrestled, rolling around in the dirt and breathing in gasps and grunts, it seemed to Jacob that his heart was somehow dialogging with someone in a parallel fight to something similar with the external fight going on. He could almost hear internally a voice speaking to the assumptions in his soul and his heart arguing back. The inner fight was just as intense as the outer one and by morning Jacob was covered with sweat, dirt and blood while his inner fight was taking on a perspective of its own. Suddenly the two struggles merged into one as the faint light of dawn threatened to reveal the face of this stranger that intrigued Jacob's curiosity so much. With one simple light touch of His finger the Stranger dislocated Jacob's hip and suddenly Jacob's dislocated heart knew that this was God Himself that he was trying to man-handle.

But what Jacob later came to realize was that the real fight going on that night was Jacob's fight against the false picture of God in his heart and mind. He was rebelling against his perception of God as one who based His love on a person's performance that Jacob could never achieve. It was a fight against a god who refused to bless Jacob until he could get his act together and prove himself to be a real man worthy of God. It was a fight against a god who seemingly held grudges like his brother and threatened punishments for past mistakes. Jacob was fighting against a god that he could not bring himself to believe would forgive him, would bless him, would honor him and value him even though his heart craved all those things.

Jacob didn't realize that night that the real God of his fathers, the God that they had learned to know and appreciate, had come to give Jacob a hug and reveal His love and Jacob's value to him. He hadn't realized that God had not come to attack him but had come to be with him in his fear, his shame and his danger. God had come to him to fill that deep and intense, aching void in his heart that had increased over the years. God had come to personally impart to Jacob the blessing that his father had failed to relay so many years ago. God had come to become Jacob's real father but Jacob had reacted in fear due to his false image of God and so God had allowed him to fight it out all night long to exhaust all his attempts to earn love and respect. When Jacob was completely finished with his attempts to impress God, then God was ready and eager to be Jacob's father and impart the blessing, value and identity that Jacob wanted the most.

When Jacob realized who this was, his heart latched onto his God physically and emotionally with more tenacity than he had fought with throughout the whole night. Even with the pain of a freshly dislocated hip, Jacob knew it would be better to die than to lose this chance to receive the blessing he so deeply craved. As his false picture of God began to evaporate in the light of dawn and the Messenger pleaded to get away, Jacob refused to let Him leave without first giving him The Blessing. This was the chance of a lifetime and Jacob was not going to blow it again. He suddenly saw that the real God was one full of mercy and compassion and love, not a God who demanded performance and self-effort to receive His recognition. In the light of this fresh revelation of God he threw himself on the newly discovered mercy of his God and begged for a new identity. And that is exactly what he received.

Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there. (Genesis 32:26-29 NIV)

(rest of story)

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Great Awakening and Growing Past Writing

I woke up a little after 4 A.M. this morning and was quietly meditating when a few minutes later the bed began to shake and the house started creaking. I was certain that the cat was jumping on the rocking chair at the end of the bed and was bumping it against the bed posts, but it seemed like a rather heavy cat to make that much movement. My wife woke up and asked what was going on. I told her that it was likely the cat but she said the cat was sleeping beside her so it couldn't be a cat. I then concluded that it must have been an earthquake – the first that I have ever personally experienced.

About six hours later I was sitting here in my chair writing the following thoughts when again the house began to creak and shake and the grandfather clock began to bump the chimes as all the cats looked around to see what was happening. I found it rather exciting to again experience an earthquake firsthand since it was not serious enough to do any damage. I have not yet checked the news to see what happened but this evidently is a very earth-shaking day in my life. I don't know what is coming since it has just started but I trust God to guide me through whatever happens.

Occasionally I have questioned why I feel so compelled to write so much of the time. It is not something I have done for most of my life for it has only been in the past few years that it has increasingly become almost an obsession with me. Because of that I sometimes feel concerned that it might be becoming maybe something of an unhealthy addiction for me that I should be more aware of.

I do not believe that it is yet to that level, at least most of the time. I do think that it has the potential for becoming an escape avenue for me at times and I need to beware of using it improperly in this way. As with many addictions, especially acceptable-looking ones like workaholism or religious busyness, there may not be so much inherently wrong with the activity itself as in the way it is used in the life. Whenever something or someone is used to escape responsibility, acknowledge problems or to face reality, then it can quickly begin to function as an addiction.

But that last point becomes a strong issue of contention and disagreement depending on an observer's beliefs about what constitutes reality. Reality is perceived quite differently by different people, societies and even how old you are. But one thing I have come to believe very strongly is that the only true reality is that which is revealed to us by the Spirit of God. Every other belief about what is real, about what is going on in our relationships with everyone else on earth, is simply a very strongly biased opinion in our own minds from our extremely limited, handicapped perspective. No matter how many people may share our beliefs of what is real or how forceful they may insist on others adopting their beliefs it has no effect whatsoever on what is truly real. Only God is positioned strategically accurate enough to be qualified to explain reality.

So what does that have to do at all with my ponderings about why I write? Well, it may have a lot to do with it. A number of years ago when I first began to practice inductive Bible study in my personal quiet time I discovered to my amazement that very often I found I could hear the Spirit of God dialogging with me much more distinctly whenever I began to write down the impressions and questions that arose whenever I studied. I now try to be very careful to maintain a mind as open as possible during these times of conversation with God so as not to discolor His messages with my prejudices and pre-conceived ideas. I cannot say that I am completely free of those problems for I know they still pop up many times, but the reason they become exposed as much as they do is because I strive to be willing to have them challenged by the Spirit during these times of meditation.

What I think I am saying right now is that the very process of writing has become for me a very powerful tool of conversation with God unlike nearly anything else I can think of. As such, I more and more find myself wanting to write at even the strangest times whenever I sense new thoughts coming to my mind or new insights energizing my heart. And another one of the reasons I desire to write is because of my weakness of memory. For some time now I have known that if I don't capture almost immediately in a more permanent form than simply a mental note, some idea or insight or even something I want to do, that it very soon evaporates to possibly never be seen again. It is almost like catching a fleeting glimpse of an overwhelmingly beautiful person and the memory of the lost opportunity to engage with that person more permanently haunts one for many years to come.

But what has emerged from repeated lost insights is maybe a growing fear that is based on yet another lie that has been a foundational belief inherent in human religion. That lie is the deep-seated, gut-level belief that one can be saved by knowledge. This belief sums up very much the basic concept of much of the religion that I have lived in for most of my life. Of course it was never stated in those words for then it would obviously lose its deceptive cover. But it has become increasingly clear to me that false ideas about religion depend heavily on this idea of knowledge somehow being our savior.

The knowledge itself may not be false at all. Most people including myself whenever they subconsciously depend on knowledge to secure them a place in paradise are very diligent to make sure to the best of their ability that the knowledge they possess is as accurate and defendable as possible. In fact, many spend their whole life working very hard to amass all the backup arguments, research, schooling and logic possible to secure their opinions about what is right, what is true and what will get a person saved. Unfortunately they are unwittingly following in the footsteps of millions before them that they usually disdain while they unwittingly imitate their example. The Pharisees were a good illustration of clinging to truth more than to the Originator of truth. Because we know the outcome of their story and Jesus' comments about them we have a very difficult time seeing ourselves in them, but if we are honest before God we will be convicted that we are far more like them than we ever care to admit. It is the Spirit's work to convict us of our true condition and the similarities we have with those who have lived before us.

I sense that some of this spirit is always present to influence and sidetrack my thinking processes and my heart in my own pursuit of finding truth. Because it is so familiar to me and so much a part of my culture and background it is impossible to be free of the tendency to begin reverting to an attitude of depending on knowledge and “truth” in place of deepening an intimate, totally dependent relationship with my Savior, Creator, Redeemer and Lover. While I am learning many wonderful truths along this line and am experiencing them to a greater degree at the heart level, I am still entangled far too much in the trap of subtly depending on what I know more than Who I know. I am in transition from one view of religion to something completely new and different and it takes a long time to transform the deeper levels of the heart to function in this new mode of belief. The head may embrace that this is the right way to live before God but the real beliefs deep in the heart take much, much longer to assimilate this radically different way of living.

So I suspect that these factors may be part of what is disturbing me at times whenever I question my compulsive desires to write. I want to be careful not to be sucked back into the false security of depending on knowledge in place of complete dependence on God's love, God's wisdom and God's presence. While knowledge is very essential and important, when knowledge about God becomes subtly more important to me than the condition of my spirit then I have once again slipped into the most common deception of religion and I must return to proper dependence on His Spirit to lead me instead of my own knowledge and wisdom.

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute In the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:3-6)

As I look up some of the original Hebrew behind the key words in this passage I want to excitedly share the deeper insights that are hiding in these verses. But right now I want to finish the original line of thought that I started with. Even in this writing I am listening to whatever is coming into my spirit and staying open to influence and thoughts from the Holy Spirit as to what He wants me to know about myself and about this issue. I always try to let Him influence the direction of the conversation.

I want to be open to conviction as well as to exciting insights, I want to have an open time of conversation with God and the act of writing is for me a way to capture both sides of the conversation as it is happening. It appears when reading it after the fact that all of the ideas came from my own mind but that is very seldom the case. In fact, whenever I feel that most of my writing is my own ideas I start to feel quite alarmed that my left brain has taken over once again and has hijacked the process and I am leaning on my own understanding.

One thing that came to me earlier this morning about this issue is my need to deal with this fear of losing something important. Anytime I find fear at work I have red flags shooting up warning me that something is amiss and needs to be corrected. Fear never originates with God for God has not given us a spirit of fear. So when I find fear in my heart about anything then I know that there is an area that needs more grace, more truth and especially more of the presence of God in that place in my heart. These are very common revelations for me now and so they come as no surprise but more as assignments for me to pay attention to. They are convictions by God's Spirit pointing out areas of unsettledness in my heart that need to be re-formed, areas that likely contain secret beliefs that are still sabotaging my heart from being more alive and free and able to receive and share love.

I don't yet have a settled answer for some of these questions that I am raising here. But I am not so afraid of unanswered questions as I once was because I am far less dependent on knowledge to be my savior. I used to be very frightened if I did not possess the “right” answer for important religious questions and I was taught that fear as a motivation to more studiously learn the doctrines and traditions of my church. The culture of having the right truth was usually taught with the background atmosphere of fear and the unspoken implication was that if I did not have enough truth (meaning primarily intellectual knowledge) that I was in great danger of being deceived and then being lost. This style of thinking is very prevalent not only in my church even today but in many religions throughout the world. It reflects the penchant to live in reference to the externals and the intellectual arena more than listening to the Spirit in reference to the synchronization of my spirit with that of heaven.

What I do seem to be sensing a little more lately is – if I perceive it correctly – an invitation to grow into a more efficient way of living from the heart than that which I have been practicing for several years. Maybe it is something akin to being invited to move up from the relative security of riding a tricycle to learning to ride a bicycle (with training wheels at first of course). Never mind graduating to riding a unicycle! (Although in the physical world I enjoy doing that on occasion – I have two in my garage.) What I wonder is, if God is asking me to begin learning to listen more in real time for His wisdom instead of depending so much on my comfortable times of meditating on His Word and writing out the dialog we have together. I am not saying that these times should cease or are in some way unnecessary, but I also realize that limiting my speed of growth the the very cumbersome act of writing and trying to capture heart insights in words may be preventing me from experiencing the next level of joy and service that He has planned for me.

Something I heard in a dream this morning has stuck in my mind. It was a comment that I made to someone else that I realized I needed to apply to myself and possibly may have sparked this whole conversation. I cannot remember the exact words but it was something along the line of words not being able to express things of the heart very well. Language was never designed to effectively convey the much deeper and broader things of the heart even though we spend much of our life struggling to do just that. The heart was created for eternity and to embrace the far greater dimensions of God, and attempting to use human language to be an outlet for the heart is simply an exercise in frustration.

Maybe that is the frustration that is driving this dialog right now. I find it both very helpful to explore together these things as I listen to the Spirit while at the same time I feel also very restricted because it takes so many words to express such seemingly simple feelings I sense at the heart level. And the words never really do justice anyway to what the heart wants to express and so language becomes something of a prison of sorts that confines the heart behind the bars of the words. It is sort of like trying to see a beautiful scene through a barrier with pinholes punched in it. One has to keep moving back and forth to piece together the various glimpses of light coming through the holes to try to reconstruct in the imagination what might be on the other side. What we really desire is for the barrier to be torn down and our eyes to be allowed to see the full flood of beauty without the obstructions and filters that restrict our view.

What I am starting to desire and that I am feeling invited to move toward is what might be termed “real-time wisdom”. It makes me think of the passage in Romans 8 that describes being led by the Spirit of God and what that kind of life can look like. I sense that God wants to move me beyond my current, clumsy way of thinking to a more Spirit-led, Spirit-filled, Spirit-inspired, real-time way of living that is open and connected with the heart and feelings and wisdom of my Father in heaven. I have always liked the analogy of an umbilical cord connecting me to the life of God through which I can receive all the nourishment and life that I need to thrive and grow and mature. I don't think we will be able to live the fuller life without this umbilical cord until we are free from this dark womb of sinful earth and our sinful flesh.

What I am now desiring is that my umbilical cord will become more of an ongoing, minute-by-minute connection instead of just a period of feeding time when I intentionally spend time in God's presence. I am not saying at all that I will outgrow my need for intentional quiet time with God on a daily basis. Being led by the Spirit does not mean that I no longer need times of intense mentoring and instruction and conviction from the Holy Spirit. But in addition to those times I need to be willing to allow God to share wisdom with me much more effectively on an as-needed basis, what people in industry call JOS, and not feel that everything must be recorded in words to be a significant part of my training.

I need to be more free of the fear of forgetting something important that God is showing me. I do think that it is helpful and even deepens the effectiveness of the things I am learning to process it through the act of writing. But most of the time I cannot even recall most of what I wrote yesterday and am realizing that just because I write something down doesn't mean that I have really internalized it or can even recall it. What it does do is help me deepen its effect on me during the moment that I am learning it. This is more important than trusting that I will remember it because it is written down some place.

The relationship of trust that I must learn to live in with God is that the same God who shared insights with me in the past can re-share them with me whenever I need them. If writing them down helps to deepen their hold on my mind and open my heart to absorb them more completely while I am receiving them, then writing will be a useful means for receiving some of the blessings and wisdom God chooses to share with me. But much more importantly I want to learn to live in a constant dynamic communication of my heart and my spirit with the heart and Spirit of God so that I will be ready and in a right frame of mind to receive and hear clearly whatever God is waiting to relay to me or to remind me. As God communicates with all of the listening children on earth the Spirit will be able to coordinate God's plans for this planet and will not only accomplish His desires in our lives but will bond us closer to each other in the love and unity that is the trademark of the children of God.

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Julie's Memorial

We recently returned from our trip to the memorial service for our adopted daughter Julie. As expected it was a time of both sadness and frustration and mixed feelings. When I first stepped inside the church I was unnerved by suddenly seeing someone who looked startlingly like Julie standing there in the hallway. I knew she must be related very closely and after introductions found out that it was her sister that I had never seen. Throughout the rest of our time there I observed how many things they had in common, especially her mannerisms and facial expressions. As I said, it was a bit unnerving for me but I also had to accept the fact that the internal connections were completely missing and there was no heart recognition between us like something deep inside me is missing.

Its funny how our heart works like that. I know of times when I will see a complete stranger that looks so compellingly like someone I have known that something inside of me demands that there must be an internal connection here because they externally fit the description so well. But despite all the awkward introductions and fishing for information that one may potentially do with this person there is always that complete void at the heart level because this person is simply not the same person that we knew with our heart and have spent time connecting with in the past.

I guess these are times of reminder of how God views people – at the heart level and not through external appearances. To God none of us look confusingly similar to each other that might be misleading or confusing. The important thing for us to remember is to keep in such close touch with God in our own hearts that He can share His view of others with our heart so we can see them more as He sees them which may often contradict the external messages we are perceiving with our other senses.

Her sister wrote the very touching poem that was displayed on the picture board in the hallway outside. During the service they showed a slide presentation of pictures from her life growing up at home. We did not have time to add our own more recent pictures to the presentation and I don't know if they would have wanted to use them or not. I posted a few of them in my recent tribute to her on this blog.

The service itself seemed rather generic and sometimes disturbing for reasons I will not here relay. We did meet a couple friends of Julie who came from near Detroit where she was staying when she died. One of them was an EMT that had helped her a number of times and had evidently come to know her well. It was not unusual for emergency officials to get to know Julie rather well due to the repeated nature of her emergencies wherever she was living. I know in the past that she shared with us how police and firemen out in Arizona had learned to look out for her due to the nature of her liabilities and health problems. She was such a sweet girl that no one who ever met her could avoid responding to her positively and like her almost immediately.

Only one of our other daughters traveled with us to the service. For various reasons the others were unwilling to go but we spent a little time visiting with them during part of our trip. I suppose one reason we felt compelled to attend this service so far away from our home was to try to bring closure to this tragedy for ourselves. For me it did not provide as much of that as I had hoped, but I am glad that we attended and met her family and others who knew her. Her real mother gave us a disc with many of her early pictures on it that we were very glad to receive and we gave her family a disc with our pictures of Julie on it for them. After the service we joined in a meal put on by the church and then left without really connecting very much with anyone.

One surprise in this time of grief has been the sympathy and kind words that I have received from a number of men in the Barbershop chorus that I have been singing with for a few months. The kindness and expressions they have shared with us on various occasions and the card they sent us were very unexpected and meaningful. I am not used to this level of kindness from people I don't yet know very well and it deepens my appreciation for their kindness, thoughtfulness and the unselfishness they have in the bonds of friendship they share in this group.

There are many unanswered questions about this situation and many unresolved emotions on the part of various people that will affect our lives for much time ahead. I keep praying to see each person through heaven's perspective and not allow my fears or emotions to too strongly color my perceptions and relationships with others. God sees things very differently than we see them and His viewpoint is the only real valid one. The closer I align with His clear knowledge and feelings about us the more peace I can experience.

I don't really know what more to say about this situation other than to echo the sentiments expressed by her sister. We will miss Julie very painfully and we trust God to return Julie into our lives when the great reunion is consummated at the resurrection. The real issue still remains for those of us left behind by her untimely death. I am praying for each of my own children and for Julie's biological family as well that God will soften and open all of our hearts and reveal the deep roots of pain and resistance and fear that can prevent us from all being together in His love. I want my own heart to be healed and I also want all of those involved in this tragedy to find full healing, repentance, reconciliation and salvation in the revelation of the real truth about God's passion and love for each of us.

Maranatha, even so come Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Counterfeit Integrity

I woke up quite early this morning from a rather vivid dream with thoughts so compelling that I couldn't remain in bed for fear of forgetting them. I had to get up and write them down before they became lost in the clutter of others thoughts and ideas that cause dreams to quickly evaporate in the light of day. (It has turned into a very long writing and needs to be condensed at some time)

I had a dream of being caught in the largest pile up on a freeway that I can ever imagine. It involved almost exclusively semi-trucks that were crashed into various buildings, each other or just caught in the tangle at all sorts of angles and various degrees of damage. Some of them were crushed quite badly and others were not damaged very much at all. There were at least dozens of them if not hundreds, but I could not tell from where I was because the area in which I found myself on the roadway was completely blocked in by trucks all around me and I could not see anything beyond them except maybe some of the surrounding buildings.

As usual, I don't remember some of the details of what happened early on in the dream but I do remember how the dream evolved in my perceptions over time. In particular, I remember one trailer that was broken open and there being containers of food lying on the truck-bed such as yogurt and cans of juice. (Nothing to do with buying several containers of yogurt a couple nights ago?) I remember there being a strong insistence by the driver of the truck that everyone should respect the rules of honesty and should not open or utilize the containers for themselves but should help transfer them to a cold room nearby for better storage. A number of us were involved in helping him out with this transfer.

I also remember looking around with awe at all the damage and beginning to wonder how long it was going to take us to get out of this mess. It was becoming increasingly clear that it might take days to unravel the gigantic pile-up enough to even reach us and open a way for us to get out from amid all the wrecks. But for awhile I was more interested in just gawking at the wrecked vehicles than I was worried about our long-term prospects.

But later in the dream I began to realize that the people who were trapped here with us were going to need to eat and that this rule about respecting the ownership of this food was in direct conflict with the needs of people to survive. This tension became very intense in my mind in a very short time so much so that it woke me up and I lay wide awake wondering why I again had to wake up so early after going to be late after a long road trip home. I lay there and pondered to possible purpose of this intense dream and suddenly more things began coming sharply clear to my mind. I felt so compelled by them that I could no longer feel safe to sleep longer without losing important things that I wanted to remember.

What suddenly became crystal clear to me was the sharp tension between the priority of rules above that of relationships. I remembered the many illustrations of this from stories that occur in war-times by those we later consider to be heroes. But at the time they are seldom viewed as such. They are usually considered to be traitors and violators of the law by the people in control and they are usually threatened with severe punishments for breaking the law.

Then another word came to my mind and I realized that this word has sharply different meanings dependent on what one believes about what is proper priorities in life. That word is “integrity”. In my dream the cold food laying in the truck became to issue around which conflicting concepts of integrity came to a head. While the driver was trying to keep others from eating so it could be repacked in the name of honesty and integrity, others were becoming hungry and the reality of the situation (depending on what one views as reality) pointed to the need for something at odds with what appeared to be honest. At first it seemed the right thing to do to respect the private ownership of the food, but then it was becoming obvious that likely the food would go to waste before it could ever be moved on and in the meantime many might become very hungry while being denied access to food right in front of them – all in the name of honesty and integrity.

It began to dawn on me that rules were being made more important than lives, that the food would spoil anyway and the people that were trapped in here needed to eat. There was an emerging clarity to the tension between integrity being defined under the false definition of keeping rules or integrity being that of looking out for others in humane way.

This has been the tension that has always emerged in crisis situations and creates confusion in the minds of many and long, heated debates about what constitutes proper ethics. What became clear to me was that it is really the titanic clash between the world's system of control and governance and heaven's methods of looking out for others ahead of one's self or even of keeping rules. The latter is the model that Jesus demonstrated and that riled all those who considered rules as more important to God than relationships. These kind of people may believe that relationships are important but that rules always trump relationships. If there is a problem in relationships then the rules just need to be tweaked some more because at root it is believed that somehow we can achieve just the right formula of rules to make everything work out right for relationships.

But rules are too artificial and inflexible and completely lack the ingredient of spirit. So rules can never accommodate to new and unforeseen situations in a crisis because the “right” thing to do will always vary from one situation to the next. The only real rules that really work are rules – really principles – concerning the spirit, not the externals.

When rules are oriented toward the externals they nearly always reflect the counterfeit government that is set up in opposition to God's government. The two systems are incompatible though it often is attempted to make them mesh. This is due to the deceptive nature of the counterfeit system which has always led us to believe that if tweaked enough the rule of law will achieve better results than God's ways. Rule-based living is really a false god that we worship and give allegiance to in preference to trusting the Spirit of the real God to lead us in right ways in every situation.

Rule-worshipers accuse those of being led by the Spirit of believing in “situation ethics”. By this they imply that it is immoral to perceive right and wrong based on flexible guidelines. In fact, the very notion of flexibility in definitions of right and wrong is horrifying and blasphemous to them. It strikes at the very foundation of their god of law and can never be tolerated. Any talk of such notion is considered very dangerous and heretical at best and is ultimately considered so dangerous as to sometimes deserve the elimination of those who promote such thinking so as to not contaminate the rest of the world with their dangerous heresies.

Think about the many stories that emerge from times of chaos, war and calamities. The one recurring theme is the increased tension between the definitions of what is “right”. But often rules are deliberately put into place to increasingly impose an atmosphere designed to dismantle relationships and separate people from bonding correctly. I wonder if that is not one of the subtle, deceptive problems of rule-based thinking fundamentally. Rules are inherently designed to promote fear and bond people together by the use of fear. Law, economics and kingship are primarily aimed at disassembling love bonded relationships and establishing relationships based on fear. Fear-based relationships can sometimes look positive and very deceiving and appear to create real unity, joy and peace. But they will always be counterfeit because of the underlying bond used to keep people in that unity. And these relationships will always be in tension opposed to the kind of relationships God intends for us to enjoy.

This also emerges in the definitions we give to words like “heroes”, “winners”, “champions” and even “overcomers”. Today's media is devoted to filling our minds with false and mixed illustrations of what the lives of these kind of people should look like. It is believed that our heroes must always mix some degree of selfish motives and sinful activities in with noble and loving relationships to come up with something so emotionally compelling that we are led to believe that our lives will be fulfilled if we make similar choices based on similar mixed motives and activities. Very seldom is a person portrayed in movies as being desirable based on completely selfless choices in view of heaven's definition of integrity.

But here it becomes even more murky. For in a crisis the false system switches tactics and employs situational ethics (as the world designed them) and appears to make relationships more important than rules in order “to deceive the very elect”. Rules of morality are then abandoned and whatever feels good at the moment is indulged in for the sake of following lust – for power, for sexual pleasure, for personal survival, etc. – and fulfilling relationships are portrayed as the indulgence of romantic attractions that seldom have any negative consequences. Selfish exploitation of others for pleasure or power (which is usually portrayed as pleasing to everyone involved) is romanticized and glorified in most of the media and this false god is exalted as the superior model to that of God's ways of selfless servant relationships. But the consequences can always be massaged in the pretend world of movies and music and even the news and so the real results of sin are masked under the guise of pleasure and endings of “living happily ever after”. These kind of relationships are touted as the model for others to follow but they do not work out that way in real life because they are based on selfish desires instead of selfless love for others in a context of keeping heaven's perspective of reality.

There is a time when rules must have apparent priority over “relationships” in heaven's model of governance. But it is not really as it appears at first, for when more carefully examined it still puts true, love-based relationships above arbitrary law. For the rules that take priority in heaven's kingdom are principles that reinforce true relationships, not preempt them. The kind of laws that govern heaven are spirit-oriented laws that external in their results, not in their foundations. Heaven's laws are far more flexible than we believe they are from our human, distorted perspective confused by the deceptions of human legal mentality. Because heaven's laws are not externally based they do not attempt to define or micromanage every situation from an external perspective but are designed to govern the heart and the motives so that the heart and motives will then be free and empowered to interpret the best way to externalize those principles in any given situation.

In reality, God's system is something like situational ethics, but is not the counterfeit that Satan invented that discredits that phrase. The counterfeit principle makes morality the variable and selfish pleasure or exploitation the fixed standards. God's true principle of “situational ethics” makes moral integrity in the heart and loyalty to God and selfless love the fixed, inflexible factors and external behavior the variable.

This is why so many teachings of Jesus sometimes seem baffling and cause many Christians to try to rationalize and explain away some of His statements. Because some of the things Jesus taught are in tension with rule-based religion people feel compelled to explain them away or reinterpret them turning them into even more rules according to the world's model of externalized religion. We talk about internalizing the rules as if that is God's plan but what we are really often saying is more along the line of forcing ourselves and others to memorize rules so that they will govern our behavior through internalized fear, guilt and shame. There is no freedom in this kind of living though from the world's viewpoint there appears to be great freedom. For freedom is yet another word with two definitions.

In the world's system freedom is viewed from an external perspective as is everything else in the counterfeit world in which we live. So if a person is not forced into a prison and has relative freedom of physical autonomy they are considered to have freedom. Notice what is implied in all the talk about freedom from our political leaders today. As long as you comply with the myriads of rules (that are ever expanding, conflicting and restrictive), you will supposedly be left relatively free to make personal choices within those ever-tightening borders – and that is labeled as freedom. But we sense that there is something inherently no right about this definition but we cannot seem to figure it out until nearly all of our freedoms have been stolen away from us by the very ones claiming to protect them for us, and it is too late to then get them back. Freedom is supposedly “defended” by the use of force which itself is the very opposite of true freedom. But freedom achieved by fear and force is not real freedom but is an illusion that leads into ultimately the most abject slavery while blindly marching its followers in time to the songs of “freedom” drummed out by our culture and its leaders.

God's freedom does include external freedom of movement, choice and autonomy. But it is a freedom that is based on unselfishness and a total absence of coercion, threats or intimidation. God's freedom is based on the internalization, not of external-oriented rules and formulas but the principles of thinking and motivation on which all of true reality is based and in which were were designed to thrive and bond with others. These principles are not left-brain based definitions and restrictions by which we are to formulate controlled behavior but are cause and effect principles of the heart that only function correctly while staying in vital connection with its Source of guidance and joy.

The Holy Ghost is the greatest promoter of situational ethics and as such is likely the greatest source of irritation to religious people everywhere, even many of those who claim to be filled with the Holy Ghost. God's Spirit is the only reliable source of knowing what the “right” thing to do is in any given situation and that may look very different for different people or different circumstances. But it will always be in perfect harmony with the fundamental principles described in God's Word and the foundational characteristics of God Himself. But these principles are impossible to condense into external formulas that can then be used in place of continual guidance by the Holy Spirit. For formulas can never replace the function of the Spirit in guiding us into all truth.

That word too, is another word with double meanings. Truth in the realm of external religion is considered primarily “correct” facts, doctrines and refined formulas and theological propositions designed to create “correct” outward conformance to externalized descriptions of what a “good” person should look like. And a “good” person will always be one who, above all keeps the law and obeys the (external) commandments of God. While it is true that a good person will indeed keep the commandments of God, the way that behavior is produced is vastly different than the path laid out and prescribed by most people claiming to understand religion and the Bible. It is a classic case of making the symptoms the driving priority instead of giving priority to the causes which are impossible to regulate through external methods. Because of the inability for external controls to regulate the heart motivations Christianity as devolved into primarily an externally defined system of working very hard to achieve lives that approximate the descriptions given in the Bible of what is righteous. We fall for trust in control. We fall deep into the deceptive trap of trying to live our life backwards, focusing more on the externals and then living in increasing frustration because the externals are so difficult to manage and control with the tools we are trying to use.

In the kingdom of heaven truth has a very different meaning than used in external religion. While it is true that truth can be somewhat described in the results seen in the external life of a true Christian, those manifestations and descriptions (what others view as obedience to law) are only externalized symptoms of a much deeper – I can't even find an appropriate word for this – element, ingredient, character motivation, than anything known by external religion. Real truth is not abstract and left-brain based but is a vibrant, interactive, dynamic, vital and flexible relationship with the Source of real truth, life and freedom. Truth might better be analogized by the idea of a flexible power cord that connects a computer into its source of electricity – but even more than that. Truth requires something of a data flow through that cable, and yet even more than data because data again implies left-brain, cognitive facts, and truth is far more than facts. Our connection with the Spirit is like a virus checker as well as a constant source of wisdom to test all spirits. Truth is fundamentally a relationship far more than it is a collection of ideas.

During the life of Jesus this issue of how to define truth was a constant source of tension and conflict that swirled around the presence of Jesus wherever He went. It culminated in the famous question by Pilate, “What is truth?”, very near the end of His life shortly before He was crucified. Jesus was crucified because of people who just like us claimed to know and have more truth than anyone else on earth. Externalized truth will always ultimately set itself up against God because God will never be able to fit into the parameters of how we define truth as based on external measurements. Any box we create claiming to use the restrictions we often call truth will sooner or later have to be shattered by the God who is too big to fit in any such containers.

But that does not mean it is right for us to shatter the containers that God creates for us and defines as truth. Because our minds operate far more in the logical realm and perceive reality – at least this side of eternity – from our limited abilities and definitions, God uses intellectual means of defining truth using legal terms and restrictions that we need to respect and utilize to keep us in proper relationship with Him until we are mature enough and safe enough to synchronize more fully with His heart.

But this does not mean that this is the goal of God for our lives or that we are to deify the restrictions that He has given to keep us safe until we are grown up. Paul makes it very clear in Romans and many other places that the law was only given as a stop-gap slave-master to keep us out of undo trouble until we could mature enough to live in proper relationship to the Source of all truth. That relationship itself is the real truth that trumps the somewhat artificial “truth” perceived in the law, and we are to always be moving toward the relationship much more than toward the law which is being superseded. To continue to keep ourselves bound to rules and formulas as the ideal life God designed for us is to insist on remaining in infant maturity and demanding that anything beyond that is heresy and is against God's will.

We utilize rules and silly restrictions for our babies and small children to protect them from dangers beyond their understanding and to help them learn basic concepts of how to live life in self-control when they have more capacity. But if they were to refuse to ever grow past their simplistic, rule-based, infant-relationship with us and were to forever remain dependent on us like that for the rest of their lives we would be failures as parents (although I know of parents who continue to relate to their children into adulthood using this model). Parents who do keep their children in total dependency on them are usually those who have personally bought into the religion of externals taught by many conservatives and have carried it out to its logical extremes.

God, thank-you again for making this a little bit more clear to me. I know that I am very slow to grow and embrace the flexible, dynamic life of continuous interaction with You that You so much desire for me. I still have so many fear bonds created by rule-based religion. That is almost all I have ever known and it seems so difficult to shift my many paradigms to live the way You are revealing to me. It is also in direct conflict with what many around me insist is true who claim to know truth much better than I, and so there is always tension between what You are showing me and what others insist that I believe.

Father, continue to teach me Your ways and fill me with Your ever-current presence. You are the God who can live simultaneously in the past, future and present with complete ease, but I must remember to live more consistently in the present in constant awareness of Your presence for guidance. I know from the past that when I live this way You are faithful to guide my spirit and impress me with Your wisdom in every situation. As I fill my mind and heart more thoroughly with Your Word and allow more access to Your Spirit I become more clear in my perceptions and more easily sense Your voice. Fill me today with Your Spirit and empower me to be a clear channel of encouragement, strength, hope and faithful love to those You have waiting for me today. Make me an efficient conduit of Your power into other lives today for Your reputation's sake. Reveal Your glory more fully today through my life so that others will be compellingly attracted to Your beauty and allurements and will release the lies about You that prevent their hearts from trusting You fully.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Growing Awareness of Judgment

We are staying for the weekend with one of our daughter's on the way to the memorial service for our recently lost daughter Julie tomorrow. This morning I felt compelled to write a couple pieces about judgment which has been a recurring occupation in my thoughts for the past few weeks. I have written several times about this but have not yet posted any of them. I am not sure how to arrange them to make sense but then I wonder if I am supposed to do that or simply lay them out as is. I think that when I do post them that I will likely place them on the Deeper Word blog site as a collection maybe rather than a series.

What I did find interesting was after writing and thinking about the issue of identity in judgment that the sermon we heard this morning was about the very same issue in many ways. Another one of those times when it looks suspiciously coordinated I think.

I am getting increased practice in refraining from engaging in counterfeit judgment so that real judgment can take place naturally. This is a paradigm shift for me that I feel like I am just starting to become more clearly aware of in my life. These truths about judgment are very different from what I am used to but I also believe that it is the kind of life that is far more effective for attracting others to the truth about God.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

My Prayer

Father, fill me with life today and make me a life-giving presence everywhere I go today. Influence my thoughts and attitudes and keep me in hope, grace and positive energy. Surround me with Your atmosphere of love and life that will quench every negative temptation and suggestion. Fill me with love to banish all fear from my mind and heart. Fill me with confidence and boldness and assurance as I rest underneath Your protection and trust in Your covenant provisions for me.

Dwell in me by Your Spirit and motivate me with Your suggestions. Fill me with Your peace so real it can be felt by others. Fill my mind and heart with real truth that energizes, guides and reminds me of who You are and who I am designed to be. Permeate me with Your grace, fill my heart with instant forgiveness and keep me very close to You. Keep me from all evil that interferes with my recognition of Your quiet voice within me. Teach my heart to rest in Your strength.

Keep me from defensiveness and self-justification today. Cleanse me from all bitter roots and flush the poison of criticism and fault-finding from my bloodstream thoroughly. Infuse me with faith, hope and love to energize me with desire to see good behind other's unloveliness. I choose to look for You today in whatever ways You choose to reveal Yourself to me.

You are merciful, gracious, life-giving and untainted by my confusion and darkness. You are totally committed to sticking close to me tighter than skin no matter how I feel, act or react. Your love lifts my head when it is pulled down by sorrow, shame or fear. God, I look to You as my Daddy who protects me and provides all of my needs. I choose to cooperate with Your plans for me today whatever that means. I do not claim to be Your most loyal friend, but I want You to grow me into that kind of person. Fill me with loyalty and total, undivided devotion to You.

Thank-you for the many reminders all around me of Your grace, Your provision and Your wisdom. Most of them go unnoticed because I am so used to only dwelling on the dark things in and around me. Please remind me constantly throughout this day of the good things, the life-producing things, the reflections of You that can be detected in each and every person I meet or converse with, the lessons of life and hope and beauty in nature and the touches of love and compassion you have placed in Your creatures. Thank-you for expressing important things about Yourself even in the animals that bless our lives.

Thank-you for the wife You have appointed for me to love, to nourish and to cherish. You have designed our relationship to teach me how to bond and synchronize and enjoy life through compassion, sympathy and shared joys in preparation for the much richer intimacy You have waiting for each of us with You. Forgive me for failing to have Your kind of spirit towards her most of the time. Please transform me into the husband that she needs and that You intended for her.

Thank-you for the children You have brought into our family through various means and for various reasons. Forgive me for failing to live Your love and grace toward them most of the time. Please take them into Your own hands and supply the nurturing, discipline and unmistakable love that I have failed to relay to them. I am being raised as a child not far ahead of where most of them are and I thank-you for Your discipline and training and patience in my own life as well as theirs.

Father, You know we are planning to travel soon to the memorial service for one of the children You entrusted us with for a few years. This is going to be a very sad time for all of us, but more than that it has high potential for igniting and intensifying feelings and triggers that lie unresolved in the hearts of many of the people who will be present there. I especially plead for an abundance of grace, healing and forgiveness to fill all of our souls, minds and hearts. Remove the bitterness that poisons so many of our hearts in this situation and keeps us from loving each other. Much of this poison is fed by many other unrelated issues or people that still remain buried in our hearts and memories that most of us have been unwilling to face. Father, I give You permission to access every heart involved in this time of mourning to reveal the real truth about forgiveness, about Your kind of love and to bring hope and life and joy into the dark places our lives and relationships.

Father, this requires power and healing and repentance of immense proportions that can only be miraculous. I especially ask that You permeate and flood my own heart with forgiveness, kindness and true compassion. Keep me very close to You as I go through unexpected emotions and unpredictable reactions. Prepare me to be a more efficient channel of Your healing grace to others. Please open my ears, my eyes, my voice and my heart to perceive others only through Your perspective and completely lay aside my prejudices, resentments and misconceptions about others.

Father, while this service and this weekend hold much potential for pain and conflict within our hearts and minds, that means it also holds even more potential for reconciliation, for bonding, for major breakthroughs and for massive progress in the lives of everyone willing to be touched by Your presence. I ask You to show up intensely so that Your presence will be unavoidably noticeable and Your transformational grace will be obvious. Overwhelm our shame with Your assurances of our value to You. Heal our brokenness with assurances of Your comfort and love. Banish all of our fears with the intense light of Your all-powerfulness and Your desires and plans to accomplish our full restoration to joy and wholeness. Father, Daddy, reveal Yourself to all of us in ways that we have never dreamed of or even know how to ask for. Father, show us Your glory for Your reputation's sake. Amen.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What Are You Reflecting?

I have been thinking more about this mirror analogy lately and was discussing it with my sister today when some more thoughts came to me. It is helping me have an internal image for when I find myself in situations that tend to trigger unwanted reactions within me.

I have observed and noted a number of times how our spirit is like a mirror that reflects the spirit of whomever we are focusing on. That is why it is so typical that when someone gets angry at us we most often immediately feel like getting angry ourselves. If someone shames us we often desire to shame them in return. If a group of people start gossiping we feel pressure to join in ourselves. Temptation in general is seen in the natural function of our mind to respond in kind to whatever is coming our direction.

I spent some time trying to draw a crude illustration of this today. It took awhile since I had never used the program before and it did not seem easy to learn intuitively and I couldn't find any instructions for dummies with it. But I finally got it finished and then managed to figure out how to convert it into a picture that I could use elsewhere.

While there may be many times when we may seem to have an opposite reaction to what is coming toward us, like fear in response to anger, I think that if we look deeper into our hearts that we will discover that many of the initial emotions that don't seem to be similar to what is coming toward us are often secondary emotions because of our feeling overwhelmed or vulnerable. But after awhile the real emotions reflecting the ones directed at us begin to emerge and our desires for revenge or for indulgence, depending on the situation, will begin to become apparent and the mirror effect becomes more evident.

Many of the ways we try to deal with this mirror tendency is to suppress our natural reactions so as to try to be a nicer person, a better Christian or whatever standard we have set up for ourselves. Very often we engage in patterns that are really nothing more than fancy ways of being a hypocrite without admitting the label. We try to mask over what we are really feeling inside with trained behaviors and calculated maneuvers to fit the model we want to project for our image. But underneath, the mirror is still functioning and all the painting and decorations that we arrange on the front of our mirrors has little effect on what is going on in our heart and with our spirit.

As I thought more about this analogy I realized that though God designed us as mirrors He did it for a much better purpose that how we normally live. We are designed in such a way so that we are supposed to be reflecting the glory of God just as Jesus did during His whole life on earth. But because we are thinking much more about how other people are treating us and are almost totally oblivious to the truth about what God thinks about us we end up reflecting the things that we were not designed to thrive on but that tend to dismantle us.

What can we do about this problem of reflecting the evil that is so real all around us? Since we cannot do anything about the fact that we are not originators but only mirrors, how can we avoid the consequences of reflecting the wrong things? In addition, if we try to confront others head-on about situations or attitudes the results are usually much less that God's design for our lives. In fact the very word “confront” when looked at carefully in this analogy reveals the problem of this approach. “Con” denotes a negative state of mind and “front” is to face directly. So when we decide to confront someone we are often assaulting them head-on with a negative spirit and will likely create a negative reaction in return because they too are mirrors reflecting what they are perceiving from our spirit.

As I thought about this I realized that when we are faced with a situation that tempts us to reflect someone else's attitudes and spirit we have a choice as to what direction we face our spirit. We may not have much choice in the moment about whose presence we are living with but we can choose who we focus our spirit attention on at anytime. In essence, if we turn our spirit mirrors away from directly facing others who may be the source of our temptations and look to see what God is thinking, something very interesting happens. Not only can we avoid the reactionary tendency to respond in kind to others but as we pay more attention to God others will begin to see in our mirror a reflection of God instead of the spirit they are projecting.

There are a number of interesting effects of adopting this posture besides the fact that we can avoid reflecting back what is being directed toward us. This angle of viewing others while focusing on God actually allows us to take the things coming at us and reflecting them on to God instead of absorbing them ourselves. In this way we can simply pass along all the anger, the bitterness, the shame and all the other evil that people intend to harm us with and allow Jesus to take it all onto Him as He has arranged for us to do. Then in exchange, because we are linked into relationship with God we can receive the grace, the forgiveness and the love coming from Him and bounce it off our mirror back toward the person we are interacting with.

Even more than all of this, God will also help us to view the other person the way He sees them instead of through our human way of perceiving others. God can see their heart which is hidden behind their mirror and if we will stay tuned to His face He can relay to our spirit what is really going on in their life and heart behind the outward appearances and fill us with His compassion and love in the midst of what otherwise may appear to be a hopeless situation. As we turn our focus onto heaven's perspective we will be more empowered to see as God sees and feel as God feels. We will begin to become real-life reflectors of the image of God which is His ultimate desire for every one of us.