Random Blog Clay Feet: 2008-05
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Monday, May 26, 2008

Unconditional Repentance

In the last two times I have looked into the issue of forgiveness, I explored what it really means or doesn't mean and the issue of whether or not it must be earned or is unconditional. Now I would like to go a little farther and look at the other side of forgiveness. Why is it necessary for me when I am an offending party to seek forgiveness of one whom I may have hurt or offended. Especially given that true forgiveness is asking a person to take upon themselves the full ownership and responsibility for the pain I have caused them, it seems like an affront or almost absurd for me to ask them to do such a thing for me.

While it is necessary for an offended person to take responsibility for their own pain in order to ever become truly free from it, what is going on in the heart of the offender, the “sinner” who has committed an offense that may have caused irreparable damage to the heart of another?

I can remember as a child growing up being forced to say I was sorry to someone whom I had hurt in some way. Sometimes the “authority” insisted that I also ask for their forgiveness as well. In order to avoid the results of resistance to obvious duress I usually complied with the demands but seldom had any significant sincerity involved. I suspect that most, if not all forced “repentance” routines, do not help anyone experience true repentance or effect the healing results of true forgiveness. These are forced exercises to make externals to appear to accomplish what we want but often end up doing the very opposite. They are really little more than trainings for hypocrisy for everyone involved. The offended party receives little healing or comfort from the forced confession of the offender and the offender learns to comply to demands under duress with little or no change at the heart level.

This scenario may be spruced up and the details refined as we grow older but the main idea of this exercise too often carries over with many of us into adult life. It permeates our whole judicial system, is reflected in the ways we report on events in the world around us in the media and has become the norm for what we look for in public conflict resolution. We may sometimes find people who try to take it to a deeper level but generally the focus is on making things look good on the surface so we can move on with life and pretend that everything is resolved.

Given this culture in our society, what are the important things that I need to know about forgiveness from the offending side of the equation in light of the real truth about forgiveness? I can begin to understand the need for me to forgive others so that I can become free in my own heart, but what are the issues going on for the person who has offended or sinned against others?

One thing I need to note before going any farther is that the person I have offended does not have to wait until I am ready to ask for forgiveness in order to forgive. God has forgiven us long before we even existed – it is never conditional on our desire for it. But on the other hand it certainly can make it easier and an encouragement for them to forgive if the one who offended them comes in a spirit of true humility and remorse asking for their forgiveness. But again, if we apply the new insights into forgiveness to this situation it takes on quite a different aspect.

What is becoming clear is that each person is primarily responsible for their own issues and the condition of their own spirit. But in addition we are also responsible for how we treat others because that is the influence that we are accountable for. So if I have offended someone, even though their own freedom from pain is dependent on their own choices, I am responsible to be honest about how I have contributed to the damage I have caused in another heart. Of course that damage is not always clear depending from what angle a person is looking at the situation, but we must learn to be much more honest about our own faults and sins and the effect that our choices or actions have on others.

Repentance and forgiveness are very closely linked. In a sense they may be just two sides of the same door. To be genuine, forgiveness needs to be unconditional and repentance too, to be effective needs to be unconditional. But true repentance and a real desire for forgiveness can only come about in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the heart that motivates and empowers us to move in that direction. We may be able to generate all sorts of false illusions or feelings that pass off as repentance or reconciliation, but the true versions of these necessary elements of salvation can only be experienced in response to the enabling of the Spirit of the One who created us. To try any other method is to follow a path that is both artificial and external in nature and will leave us with less than effective or satisfactory results.

Quite likely the core reason that I commit an offense in the first place is because of unresolved issues deep in my own heart. Most, if not all sin is an outgrowth of false beliefs and residual effects of internal damage to our spirit that needs to be faced and resolved at the heart level. When I react from my pain by sinning against someone else's heart, I am simply passing on to others the results of pain that I have not dealt with myself and causing more roots to potentially spring up in other lives to be passed on to yet others if not checked by the Spirit of grace.

So part of my need to ask for forgiveness is my need to search for the root causes of why I acted the way I did to cause the offense. I do not believe it is good enough to just say some words and go through some socially acceptable motions in order to accomplish what is needed for true repentance. I not only need to do what is possible to address resolving the other person's pain but I also need to view this as an opportunity to discover a hidden fault within my own heart and receive healing. What is really needed is a mending of relationships, not a setting straight of some balance sheet or a satisfying of some artificial rules somewhere. The real issue is the condition of our relationships and the spirit within us and between us. That is the most important thing to pay attention to in the issue of forgiveness.

So what is the real purpose of seeking forgiveness in this light? It looks to me like the goal of real forgiveness is a reuniting of hearts and a repair of ruptured, damaged relationships. This is the most important aspect of forgiveness; it is to accomplish reconciliation and bonding of hearts together into a unity of spirit in the harmony of love and respect. Anything less than this is artificial and falls short of what our hearts were designed for.

So when I have offended or hurt someone the real issue is the damage in the arena of the spirit. I have wounded someone's spirit and I have great power to assist in healing for that person by recognizing my responsibility in that damage, acknowledge it to that person and seeking for healing and reconciliation with them. But again, this is not primarily for the purpose of satisfying some legal requirement as it is to correctly begin a process of healing, repair and new life in both myself and the person I have hurt.

But what happens if I am truly remorseful for what I have done, I respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and agree with His convictions in my heart (the real meaning of the word “confession”) and seek to make things right with the other wounded party but they are unwilling to accept my offers of reconciliation? What if they refuse to forgive me and reject my apologies? And after all, that only sounds reasonable given the true definition of forgiveness. If I am asking them to accept all the pain I caused them and not hold it against me anymore that is a very stiff request that many are not prepared to accept and even find quite unreasonable. How does that response affect the way I relate to them?

Well, I happen to be in that very situation with at least one person in my life right now. I have grappled with this issue for about a year now and desire to know the truth about this issue. I am coming to realize that I cannot hold myself responsible for the choices that the other person makes as to how they are going to deal with the pain I have caused them. I have done everything I know to do within the tight restrictions of communication that they have put on our relationship to convey to them my deep regrets for the pain I caused them and have asked for their forgiveness. But due to many years of false mentoring by other people in their life and false assumptions about my motives that they refuse to question, they find it very hard to understand that they are in bondage to their own pain as long as they hold me hostage in their mind.

Many people mistakenly believe that if they forgive someone who has hurt or abused them that somehow they will lose some sort of “protection” that unforgiveness seemingly provides their heart. It is another classic lie of Satan residing in our flesh that causes us to believe that if we unconditionally forgive someone for hurting us it gives them blanket permission to come and hurt us again. But again, this notion is based on the false definitions of forgiveness, the legal model of forgiveness that assumes that forgiveness is letting someone off the hook or pretending that the offense was not so bad as the pain we are feeling. Our hearts understandably resist going into denial of our pain and because we may think that is what is involved in forgiveness we refuse to go down that path.

This is very understandable if these false notions about forgiveness were really true. But when we begin to learn the truth about real forgiveness it will be much easier for us to begin exercising it on a more regular basis. The truth is, forgiveness is the only path that we can take to healing and restoration of our souls. All counterfeits will leave us empty and betrayed and need to be avoided. But both forgiveness and repentance are a personal choice that must be taken by the offended party and the offender respectively and not dependent on the other.

I have to personally choose to listen to the convictions of the Holy Spirit, respond to the promptings to face my real issues, take responsibility for the pain I have caused others and do as much as I can to seek reconciliation with them. Beyond that I cannot force the other person to accept my apologies or forgive me if they choose to cling to fears about me no matter how false they may be. I am responsible for my own choices only, but I must also cooperate with the guidance of the Spirit to do all in my power to address the damage that has occurred both in the spirit of those whom I have hurt and in my own spirit as well.

Once we begin to realize the individual responsibility and the separateness of each person's power to determine how they are going to act in this situation, it can be seen more clearly how even if one party dies before healing or reconciliation occurs that the other person can still choose to do their part either to forgive or to repent and seek forgiveness. In that situation God can act in place of the deceased party and provide the response that our heart needs for healing. Thus we do not have to be held hostage to our loss of opportunity for reconciliation that our heart is designed to enjoy.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Unconditional Forgiveness

Last time I explored the problem of forgiveness as it relates to asking others to forgive me while understanding the true implications of what I am really asking them to do. When I understand that real forgiveness means that the forgiving person accepts full responsibility for all of the pain still inside of them caused by the offender, it seems almost offensive or irresponsible to ask someone to forgive me for something that I have done to cause them that pain.

But there are other aspects of forgiveness that I need to explore as well. With a completely new view of what constitutes real forgiveness the implications have a wide area of impact on related issues and I feel the need to look at more of them. One of these is the issue of whether forgiveness should be unconditional or should it be requested before being granted.

This is an issue that I have observed great confusion over in the minds of many people all of my life. One of my best friends many years ago could not even bring himself to imagine that the men surrounding Hitler could ever be forgiven for the atrocities they had committed against millions of people. The horrible and intentional nature of their crimes seemed to preclude, in his mind anyway, the option of their ever being forgiven either by men or by God.

Because of this intense feeling of his – and I would note it was based on some personal experience in the events of that tragic war – he simply could not believe the stories relayed in a book I loaned him called The Cross and The Swastika. This book told about a Christian who spent months ministering to these top criminals while they were being held in detention awaiting the war crimes trials held in Nuremberg, Germany after the war. Many of these men, according to the book, accepted Christ as their Savior and claimed the promise of salvation before they were executed for their war crimes. But one man in particular rejected the messages of mercy brought by the author of this book and before his execution committed suicide in a final act of defiance to show he was still in control of his own destiny.

This friend of mine, raised in a similar theological environment that I was raised in, did not believe that forgiveness could be unconditional. Along with many, probably the majority of people, he believed that a person had to have a genuine repentance and seek for forgiveness before God would offer that gift to that person.

This is a very commonly held belief about forgiveness, but is it really true? Is forgiveness only able to be offered to those who are willing and desiring and deserving somehow to receive it? If so, what are the prerequisites to qualify for forgiveness? Different people have different opinions about what qualifies a person to receive forgiveness and these ideas permeate most religions in one way or another.

But if these basic assumptions are not true to begin with then all the theological propositions about what qualifies a person to be forgiven are pointless discussions about irrelevancies. The idea of unconditional forgiveness is shocking and revolting to many people who believe that it violates all sense of decency and justice and so dismiss it out of hand before even seriously considering whether it may indeed be true. But the reason most people struggle to accept this idea of unconditional forgiveness is because they already have confused ideas of the real truth about forgiveness. If forgiveness means some of the things I discussed last time as commonly held beliefs it is quite understandable why people struggle to believe in the possibility of unconditional forgiveness.

If forgiveness means that there are no consequences involved from commissions of sin, if forgiveness means simply getting off the hook legally and set free to continue in a life of sin, then indeed unconditional forgiveness doesn't make any sense. But then, some try to modify this definition slightly and say that if a person really repents sufficiently enough – whatever that means – then they should get off the hook legally etc. But that is just another spin on a twisted belief about forgiveness that still doesn't make real sense.

One of the problems in understanding this issue is the confusion we have about justice and the difference between God's laws and man's system of laws. There is a radical difference between the ways of God and the created natural order of principles and consequences in contrast to the artificial system of so-called justice and legal arrangements created by men. Man's laws are prescriptive by nature and have to have arbitrary punishments and enforcers to implement them effectively. They focus entirely on external behaviors though they at times attempt to determine intentions of the mind. They are also based on economics though many people are not yet aware of that fact. Human laws are a poor imitation of the true system of God's laws which operate very differently than man's. But if we do not clearly understand these differences we will tend to believe that God operates His government just the same way we do.

But God's laws are simply descriptions of the way things are, not artificial rules and demands with arbitrary punishments attached. Although God has throughout human history been forced to implement human-style laws and punishments, that was never His intention for the relationship He wishes to have with His children. He simply has to relate to men in ways that they can understand and respond to in the mental condition they are in at the time. He still has to do that yet today, but inherent in all His dealings with men is the seeming inconsistencies in His instructions that actually reveal His desire to move us far past the childlike relationship of rules and restraints to a more mature relationship of love, respect and mutual enjoyment and trust.

If we are to understand better the truth about forgiveness then we need to also understand the truth about law from God's perspective. When we begin to perceive that God's laws are descriptive in nature rather than prescriptive, then the need for “getting off the hook” becomes irrelevant and a completely different dimension of reality begins to emerge. Included with that new perception of reality comes a radically different picture of God in our hearts as we begin to perceive a God we do not have to cower before but a God who is longing to have a sensible, realistic, two-way relationship with each one of His created beings.

Having a proper understanding of both law as God sees it and forgiveness in its true form we can also begin to make much better sense of what really happened at the cross of Calvary. Instead of Jesus offering Himself as an appeasement sacrifice to neutralize the anger of a God thirsting for revenge and blood, we begin to see the expression of an infinite heart of passionate love expressing that love in ways that at first seem very baffling to us. Part of what really happened at Calvary was the exact reverse of the teachings of many Christians today who believe that sinners will suffer eternal wrath in the hands of an angry God in the fires of hell. What happened at Calvary was a loving God falling into the hands of angry, hate-filled men. In doing so He exposed the natural consequences of sin – death in all its hideous ugliness.

But what was the most prominent feature that emerged during the hours of torture and agony that the Son of God suffered at the hands of sin-filled humans? It was the clear light of unconditional forgiveness in the blackest darkness of men's system of supposed justice exposed as the fraud that it is. While the legal system of men was used and manipulated to appear to produce justice while it was obvious that is was nothing but a veneer of legitimacy, God displayed the truth about real forgiveness as being the choice of the offended God and having nothing to do with the attitude of those needing His forgiveness.

When we look at this situation through the lens of a correct concept of real forgiveness it suddenly makes so much more sense. Remember, forgiveness is the choice on the part of an offended party to take full ownership of all the pain caused them by another and refusing to hold it against them. This allows complete freedom in the heart of the offended party from any bondage to being hostage to those offending him. That does not mean there are not natural consequences that occur as a result of the actions and choices of the offenders in their own lives. In the true system of principle-based “law” that governs the universe, natural consequences are inevitable unless grace and mercy intervene to prevent them. But that does not mean that forgiveness is not there all along.

Jesus did not die in order to give God permission to forgive – that is based on human-style judicial thinking and is not reflective of God's reality. Jesus died in order to demonstrate the forgiveness that has always been and always will be in the heart of God toward His wayward children, human and angelic alike. Jesus came to reveal in His life and death both the passionate love of the Godhead for us and the results that all will suffer if they choose to reject the forgiveness already provided for them and is irrevocable. Just as God's love is eternally unconditional, so is God's forgiveness.

At this point some would argue that if we are unconditionally forgiven then that would necessarily mean that everyone would be saved, and most people know that is not true. So since everyone will not be saved then it is concluded that there is no such thing as unconditional forgiveness.

But this is simplistic and circular logic that does not hold water upon close examination. It again is based on an assumption that if a person is forgiven then they are automatically going to be saved and will end up in heaven. But forgiveness is not synonymous with being safe to live with God for eternity in a loving relationship with Him. And being lost does not mean that a person was not forgiven. It simply means that that person rejected and repulsed the forgiveness that was available to them at any time they were willing to receive it and allow it to transform their heart. Being prepared for heaven is a very different thing than being just forgiven.

God is not the one who determines whether or not we are saved. He will be the one who exposes the choices that each person has made in their deepest heart to the onlooking universe, but He does not make the choice about that person's destiny. Each person is fully responsible for the choice they make themselves about what they will do with the forgiveness and grace that are irrevocably in place and will always be. The choice each one of us makes about our belief in God's forgiveness and His attitude toward us will determine whether that forgiveness will have a transforming effect on our hearts or whether we will cling to our appeasement models of fear-based religion. We can never earn God's forgiveness by any amount of repentance or performance or appeasement of any kind. We can only believe in what is already in the heart of God and change our opinions about how He feels about us thus releasing His power in our souls to re-create His image in our hearts.

In the same way, we must follow the example of God in not thinking that others have to repent to a satisfactory level before we are willing to forgive them in the true sense of the word. To do so is only to hold ourself hostage to the choices of those who have hurt us. What insane reasoning! Why would we wait for an abuser to repent before we are willing to be free in heart and spirit? Because of lies believed about ourselves and about God, that's why! Because of false notions about forgiveness and justice and many others things that Satan has confused and blinded our minds and hearts with. The clearer we see the truth about God and the unconditional nature of His love and forgiveness the sooner we will feel the attractions of love in our hearts and the quicker we will begin to heal and be on the path to wholeness again.

(part 3)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Troubling Truth about Forgiveness

Forgiveness is something that has changed color quite dramatically for me in the past few years, especially after I learned what it really meant and involved. Letting go of many of the false preconceptions generally believed about this concept and embracing the real truth about forgiveness also involves facing a troubling aspect that was never seen before.

I usually find it helpful for context to explain some of the old ideas commonly held about forgiveness that I now realize are not accurate. I suspect that stopping nearly anyone on the street and asking them what they think forgiveness means would produce some of the following ideas.

Forgiveness is forgetting about what someone has done to hurt us.

Forgiveness is letting someone off the hook who deserves to be punished. (But if the heart is consulted about this option it will usually be discovered that a great deal of resentment is harbored as a result.)

Forgiveness is pretending that we were not hurt by someone when in reality we still feel the pain, we are just trying very hard to suppress it in the name of Christianity, or whatever other ideal we may hold.

Forgiveness is trying to ignore the pain that an offense has caused us because someone insisted that we had to forgive. This is not really successful but we sometimes think it is if we can repress our pain so effectively that we don't notice it anymore.

There are many more subtle definitions of forgiveness that I suspect could be uncovered if people were interviewed about this, but what I have realized is that none of these things is real forgiveness the way it must take place for effective and long-term healing to occur. (Not noticing our pain after lengthy repression is not healing.) And if the heart could be interviewed about any of these commonly held beliefs about forgiveness I think it would be quite dissatisfied with most all of them. But since it is the intellectual part of our brain that commonly steps in to answer these questions based on what it thinks is the “correct” answer, the heart is seldom heard on this issue. It is usually suppressed both internally and by society around us in an effort to comply with the demands that we mistakenly believe forgiveness requires of us.

A few years ago I watched a video by a Christian pastor/counselor who illustrated true forgiveness in a story he told about a couple he was working with who had very intense problems in their marriage. As is often the case, the story was far more effective at conveying the real meaning of the word much more than simply an intellectual explanation of what it means. But I have also found it helpful for the kind of thinking I like to do to condense the principles uncovered in the story to words that explicitly lay out what it means. Maybe that is because my right brain relates better to the story with its emotions and drama, and my left brain relates better to logical explanations that correlate to the reasons the story is so effective. With both sides of my brain tracking in the same direction, maybe I then feel more balanced and congruent.

Even as I am writing this, part of my brain resists the need to tell the story as I remember it because it would take so much time and effort to write it out in length. But another part of my brain says that if I don't I am a hypocrite after all that I have just stated about the importance of stories conveying the meaning far more effectively. So to avoid contributing to undermining my integrity with hypocrisy I better take the time and effort to go ahead and relate the story before I go on.

As I remember it, this couple was on their last attempt to possibly patch their marriage back together even though the wife was quite certain there was no hope. The husband had had an affair while away from home on business and the marriage had been in turmoil, separation and pain ever since. (I am sure I am leaving out many important details, but it has been awhile since I heard the story myself.)

The wife related that her family had been Irish Catholics for many generations and no one in their family had forgiven anyone for generations. Evidently it was just not something they ever did in their family. As they sat there in the pastor's office locked in their pain and memories and emotions, the solution to reconciliation seemed impossible.

The pastor turned to the wife and asked, “How much money could your husband give you to take away the pain he has caused you?”

The wife was shocked and almost angered by this question. She looked at him in unbelief and exclaimed, “There is not enough money in the whole world that would effectively take away the pain that I feel inside from what he has done to me!”

The two people sat facing each other in front of the desk but they could not look at each other's eyes. The husband was numb in his emotions and just sat staring at the floor. He could not feel repentance like what might be expected of him even though he regretted what he had done. He really did not know what to do or where to turn at this point. The wife sat across from him pondering the dilemma they were in and the implications raised by the question that the pastor had asked.

As she began to see more clearly what the real situation was and her husband's complete inability to remove the pain that she felt inside, it began to become clear to her what her real option was. She made a decision and looked up as she said, “There is nothing that he can ever do to eliminate or remove all the pain and suffering that he has caused me. So I choose to accept full responsibility for all this pain that I feel and I do not hold it against him any longer. I accept the pain as my own.”

In that moment her husband looked up at her with a look of shock and amazement and instantly burst into tears and lunged into her arms. The two embraced for a long time crying onto each other's shoulders and allowing their hearts to once again engage with each other in what was the real experience of forgiveness.

As I listened to this intensely emotional story for the first time, and in fact each time I hear it, I was struck with the amazing truth of what forgiveness really means. But the implications of this truth resonate far beyond this story. When I take the principles revealed in this story and apply them to not only my own relationships with others but to God Himself, I am amazed at all the implications and insights that suddenly burst into the open about the whole plan of salvation and what is really going on with the Great War between Christ and Satan. I begin to get a much clearer view of how God goes about winning this war and the relationship that He has toward everyone who has offended or spurned His love for them.

But as I thought about it over the past few years since hearing this story, another aspect of this suddenly struck me as very troubling. I believe if we view forgiveness in this new light that we will be forced to rethink very seriously the flippant or mindless ways in which we often relate to forgiveness or the ways in which we try to force our children to ask for forgiveness.

Think about it seriously with me here. Forgiveness means that the only way I can become free of the pain of an offense is to take full ownership of my pain and release everyone else. I also have to let go of all desire on my part for vengeance or retribution, even at the heart level. When I come to realize that the offending party is completely incapable of bringing healing to my damaged heart by anything they can do, say or experience, then I can choose to stop holding them hostage by my bitterness toward them and release them to be responsible to God in their own relationship to Him. I will accept that the pain I feel is resident within my own heart and no longer try to link it to the one who incurred it to begin with. And after I release believing that they can fix me, either directly or through their being punished, I can then be ready to find healing and release in my own soul and spirit.

If I am not willing to take this act of intentional forgiveness and release in its true form, then I will continue to harbor either an open or a secret desire that somehow, sometime that person will experience pain that will force them to know what they have done to me. We mistakenly believe that we will somehow feel “healing” satisfaction in seeing others suffer who have hurt us and thus we will somehow become freed of our own pain. But this is an illusion, a lie that is so deeply rooted in the human psyche that we mostly assume it must be true. But it is really part of the deception of sin that has infected our thinking since the fall of the human race into sin.

This belief in the need for revenge or punishment, to make others feel the same or worse pain than we feel, lies at the root of much of our reasoning and even under girds much of our mistaken theology about how God is going to resolve the problem of sin. It is pervasive in many of our suppositions about justice and is the foundation of most of our legal apparatus and system of punishments. But nevertheless, it is still a false presumption and keeps us locked in a cycle of pain and dysfunction that takes us lower and lower as we get farther away from the ways of God.

Because of these assumptions about crime and punishment that pervade most of our thinking, our notions of forgiveness parallel that false line of reasoning. If an offense must have a punishment as we normally assume it does, then forgiveness must mean escaping deserved punishment and thereby getting away with an offense while leaving someone else holding the bag of pain and consequences. But all of this is reasoning based on the kingdom of darkness and upon which all the kingdoms of the world are founded.

Understanding real forgiveness, like so many other aspects of true reality, requires a complete and radical rethinking of all of the aspects of reality and truth. But that is more than I have time or space for right now but is something that I am continually seeking to understand better. At this point I would like to explain the other side of forgiveness that should change the way we think about it from a different perspective.

It is one thing to accept the true meaning of forgiveness – accepting full responsibility for the pain someone has caused me and releasing them from being our hostage. This allows me to then turn my pain over to God and in turn receive His forgiveness, peace and joy in my heart in place of the former pain. (see Matt. 6:12) But what about when I ask for someone else's forgiveness? In light of a clearer understanding of the real meaning of forgiveness, what am I really asking them to do for me? I know that for myself this new understanding has given me pause before glibly asking someone to forgive me. It is one thing to forgive someone else, as difficult as that may be. But what does it really mean for me to ask for someone else to forgive me?

It appears to me that what I am really asking the other person (or God) to do when I ask for forgiveness is for them to take full responsibility for all of the pain I have caused them and no longer hold me responsible for it. That sounds rather wrong in the way we typically view fairness and justice, but in the light of what I have learned I cannot avoid facing this fact. If this is what forgiveness really means – and I believe it is, for it is far more effective in resolving our relationship problems that the false notions about forgiveness ever accomplish – it makes me think much more seriously about what I am really asking a person to do when I ask for forgiveness. I hesistate to use these words so lightly as I often have in the past.

What complicates the problem is that while I may better understand what I am really asking someone to do for me when I ask them to forgive me, I also realize that quite likely they are hearing my request with the false ideas about forgiveness still firmly embedded in their own assumptions and so they will not understand what I am really asking for if I simply use the word forgiveness. But if I explicitly spell out what I am really asking them to do it becomes even more painful for both of us, because what I am asking for is generally considered highly unfair and unjust. It almost seems to be an affront to ask for someone's forgiveness in the light of a true understanding of the word; but on the other hand forgiveness is the only path to real reconciliation and healing for both parties.

It is a truth that forgiveness does not have to be asked for to be extended. Forgiveness can be refused but still be valid for the person forgiving. A request for forgiveness can be rebuffed and rejected as well, but the need to seek forgiveness is still no less important on the part of an offender. All of these aspects of forgiveness require further exploration and I want to do that. But for this time I simply wanted to expose some of the real issues involved in forgiveness and the implications involved in asking others to forgive us.

(part 2)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Day in the Life...

Today was one of those get-things-done-around-the-house-and-yard day. I cultivated the garden with the Mantis tiller and found that several rows of plants never came out of the ground. I guess we may have had too much rain the past few weeks for some of the plants. Also, some of the tomato plants are not doing well and one or two have died. I left some areas uncultivated in hopes that maybe some of the original plants may still come up, but that is doubtful.

We have been having some Baltimore Orioles visiting us lately and found out that they very much like to feed from the Hummingbird feeders. One of the feeders that is easier for them to sit on was empty so we had to fill it back up for them today. We also put back up the regular bird feeder that we had taken down to put up the Hummingbird feeders. We now have three feeders outside our front bay window with hookups for one more if we want.

We also have been noticing a Titmouse who built a nest inside a hollow limb on our apple tree. Today our cat Peaches decided to tear the nest out of the hole and we found a baby on the ground unhurt. We pushed the nest back down in the hole with another egg still in it and placed the baby back into the nest. The mother bird finally came back to the nest and we began to try to think of something to keep the cats out of the hole.

I finally settled on cutting a small milk jug that we had just emptied honey out of to fit over the limb and be held on by a side limb still attached to the hollow part to keep it on. We cut the top of the jug a little bigger so the bird could get in but the cat couldn't. As I began writing this after dark my wife screamed from outside that the cat was after the bird again and trying to tear the jug off the limb. When the cat started scratching at the jug the bird poked her head out and the cat hit her on the head. She flew off in a fright and we captured the cat and put him back inside again. We hope after all the traumas the bird has been through today she will still come back and finish raising her young'uns. The cat may just have to stay inside for a few weeks until the babies are grown since it is obvious we cannot trust him at all with this situation. I'm not sure about the other cats.

Tomorrow I will go back to work building on a deck and boathouse that we have been constructing for the past week for a customer who lives on a lake. I have been working with a contractor in a nearby city who I met from the Barbershop Chorus that we both sing in. He has been very good to work for and he wants me to help him with some other big jobs this summer including finishing a log home that will be set up later in the summer.

The Barbershop group is putting on a concert the end of this month but I will not be singing in it. I do hope to take my wife to the dress rehearsal on the Thursday before the concert so she can hear the songs we have been learning and see some of the acting and costumes. I hope we also can hear the High School group sing at the same time as I understand they too will be singing some Barbershop music in the same concert. It has been a lot of fun singing with this group and the men are really great guys. It has been good to get a little acquainted with some people who live in this area as we hardly know anyone around here very much yet. We are just not very good at getting connected with people.

Well, I better wind this up and get to bed. I have to get up the same early hour that my wife does to get everything done so I can get to work on time. I'm very glad to have some work after being mostly out of work for nearly a year. God has been very faithful in taking care of us though, and we desire to learn more faith and want to have more of a spirit of gratitude and praise instead of gravitating so much toward looking at problems. That seems to be the assignment I am supposed to be working on I think.

Spirit Principles for Healing

I recently had a discussion with one of my sisters about forgiveness. I was explaining how forgiveness is very different from what most of us have assumed it is most of our life. After I described my new perception of this I have learned in the past few years, she said it sounded a lot like something called Ho'oponopono. She sent me some web links describing this theory and I found them quite fascinating.

Even though this has very strong New Age elements mixed in with it, it also appears to have some strong threads of real truth that are not yet clear to most Christians. In short, it focuses on looking within one's self to connect and resolve the evil within that resonates with other peoples sins to accomplish healing in someone else vicariously, even without their permission or knowledge.

The normal skepticism which this kind of thinking usually produces in reactive Christians alerts me to my own weakness toward criticism which produces bitterness in my spirit. I am trying to move the other direction, away from continued infections of bitterness, so I want to remain open-minded about this and try to see it from God's perspective while not immersing myself into potential deception. Since I do not have the wisdom to know what may be enchanted ground I need to stay very close to God and listen to the guidance of His Spirit in this matter. At the same time, I do not want to be deceived by the spirit of pride and fear that will demand that I only believe what has already been established in religious circles as truth and can be easily proof-texted.

What I am seeing is a strong parallel to the largely misunderstood principle of intercessory prayer. I believe very few people have much of any understanding at all of the principles behind this practice and because of that most of religion is largely powerless today. But I also sense a drawing of the Spirit to look deeper into this issue and suspend the natural skepticism that tends to surface that discredits anything I do not already understand or believe. I believe that there could be enormous potential to radically change the world around us in unexpected ways if we would be willing to grasp a knowledge of unused “laws” or principles of truth that are mostly underutilized up to this point. And just because these principles are demonstrated by those who have false notions about God or spirituality does not mean that this truth is somehow tainted and useless for Christians to employ.

I sense that there are supernatural principles that can be highly effective and that God desires us to tap into that we are largely afraid to approach because possibly other religions have utilized them and packaged them in false contexts. Just because New Age and Eastern religions have false notions about God and our relationship to Him does not mean that they may not have better understanding of certain principles of spirituality that are effective even in the context of error. A counterfeit always betrays the fact that there is a true that is likely even more powerful and effective if placed in the context of other truths. This is seen all the time throughout the various Christian denominations and their partial teachings of true and false doctrines. Just because they have false views about certain things they refuse to acknowledge does not mean that the true things they teach and practice are no longer true or effective.

It is like this. If a person believes in gravity because it is so self-evident that it is hard to miss, but refuses to believe in the principles of aerodynamics, that person may never be able to fly. But that unbelief still does not discredit the principle of gravity that they also believe and obey. Just because they happen to believe that gravity overrules the possibility of flight does not make it so, it only deprives them of great potential for expansion of their life and possibilities.

Now if they start to open their mind and explore the possibilities that there may be other principles that at first seem contradictory to gravity, they may be viewed by people around them as heretics for questioning long-established beliefs and traditions. They may be viewed as trying to discount or tear down what is long-established and obvious truth and they may be marginalized and scorned and even persecuted for daring to question traditional truth. But in the end it will be seen that they are not really trying to overthrow the existence of the truth about gravity but are trying to think outside the box and discover other principles that up to that point were not nearly so self-evident to earth-bound creatures who had never soared above the earth.

In retrospect these radical thinkers who were considered dangerous renegades and rebellious heretics by many of their peers are viewed as pioneers or heroes of the faith. Isn't it strange how dramatically our opinions can change and how easily we forget the great resistance of society to these insistent questioners who refused to be satisfied with life and truth as perceived by the world around them. Because of this great change in perspective and our tendency to glamorize the lives of these free-thinkers, we set ourselves up to once again create another atmosphere of intimidation to anyone who wants to look into the possibility of yet more discoveries and insights. Our fear of change is usually greater than our hunger for growth.

At the same time, it is part of wisdom to not cast off all that has been learned in the past as irrelevant and no longer applicable. The laws of aerodynamics do not nullify or discount the law of gravity. The various laws are designed in creation to work together in perfect complimentary ways. And for those willing to experiment and take careful risks based on reasonable evidence and intuitions and an understanding of foundational principles of reality, it will be seen that all the “laws” of creation are designed to be in perfect and harmonious balance. The enormous powers set up in all the universe are delicately balanced, and when they are all obeyed and respected and utilized correctly life has nearly unlimited possibilities. It is when we flaunt some laws, either intentionally or ignorantly, that other natural laws become unbalanced and negative results naturally ensue.

These negative results to ignoring certain principles and thus throwing the powers that make up reality as we know it out of balance is the effects of what we call sin. These effects are often viewed incorrectly as punishments. Sin is at its core trying to define reality in ways that are not accurate which inevitably will unbalance the natural powers of true reality that was established by God in His creation of all things. Just as trying to jump off a high cliff in faith that somehow faith itself will cause me to fly will not suspend the law of gravity no matter how much I believe otherwise. What I need to “overcome” gravity is not a suspension of the law of gravity but a knowledge and proper application of other forces that work in cooperation with gravity to produce safe flight. Successful flight is learning to perfectly balance all of the principles that seem to oppose each other but are actually meant to make life more exciting and thrilling and wholesome.

The very same principle is true in spiritual matters. The realm of the spirit is not separate and disconnected from the physical realm as many try to insinuate. Spiritual realities are not fictional or inventions of our emotions as many people have come to assume, though much of organized religion does fit this description. Spiritual things simply mean that they primarily relate to things of the spirit, both our spirit and spirits that we term supernatural. We call them supernatural because we don't understand them very well and are largely unaware of the principles or “laws” that govern that part of our existence that parallels the more obvious (to us) principles in existence that govern our physical realm.

Many people refuse to even believe that they have a spirit, or if they do they have little accurate knowledge as to how it operates or how they are to relate to it correctly. I know for myself that I was consciously oblivious to the existence of my own spirit until a few years ago when someone systematically explained it from the Bible in a lecture and I was very surprised to realize that it was true. From that point on I began to focus more attention on trying to become aware of my own spirit and trying to learn to detect what it was doing or feeling or whatever it does. Over the years my awareness of my own spirit has increased, though I know I am only just beginning. But in the process I have also realized that my spirit is the primary receiver for communications from God to my heart and I have been immensely handicapped all of my life because of my ignorance about my own spirit.

Unfortunately we have come to idolize science so much that we are very reluctant to believe anything that cannot be proven scientifically. But science has been deliberately restricted to the physical realm of existence and usually is only considered credible if it never goes beyond that boundary. But just because we have artificially created a very small box around what we allow science to work on does not mean there is no other arena of existence. And even more important, the methods of skepticism that underly most of science to discover truth are themselves a hindrance to understanding the things of the spirit. We too often turn science into a false god that we worship and depend on as our source for truth.

Most importantly though, if we try to learn anything, whether in science or in spiritual things without a proper perspective of what constitutes reality we are destined to always arrive at false conclusions just because we are basing our assumptions on false premises to start with. If in problem solving you allow a false assumption to become part of the foundation for the reasoning used to arrive at your conclusions, the conclusions will always be unsteady due to the weakness of the error underlying everything else. This is why it is so important to be willing to constantly challenge and reexamine our foundations and ferret out the weakness and faulty assumptions from our past and replace them with more stable truths that interlock more perfectly with all other truths. Truth is never afraid of repeated and intense examination. It only becomes stronger from the experience.

But if we try to maintain that truth is only what we can perceive with our own reasoning or from scientific methods of discovery, then we cut ourselves off from the only Source of real truth who is the God who set everything up to start with. If we do not have a healthy understanding of the bigger picture of the creation of the universe and the great Battle that is going on between God and ex-Lucifer, then we will inevitably have false assumptions integrated into the foundations of our philosophy of existence and we will be very unstable when true reality becomes more obvious.

Speaking of examining my foundation – I read a devotional this morning that exposed a whole nest of hot-buttons in my own foundation I had completely forgotten about. It seems that the more aware and willing I am to face and resolve my roots of bitterness the more God is beginning to show me places where those roots are attached deep within my memories. As I read the words that used to be an enforced part of my life in my early years I literally felt a ball of cold heat in the center of my chest. I became aware that this was one of the pockets that may have been linked with much of my early rebellion that still lies latent within my soul needing to be healed. But the healing is going to have to be accomplished using quite different methods than the confrontational, forceful methods attempted by my father and my teachers back then.

Is uncovering this pocket of pain and emotional cancer setting me free from it instantly? No, not really. But I am very glad to have it exposed and I immediately prayed for God to expose it even more thoroughly and bring healing and truth to this painful pocket of bitterness in my past. I was completely unaware that this place in me even existed until I read this this morning that made me aware of it. I know that this is the kind of thing that is becoming more common for me – a God-arranged encounter with my past that gives me opportunity to have more healing and more repair to my inner circuits to prepare me for what is ahead.

The second devotional book I read also stimulated my thinking and gave me better insights on certain things I have been discovering over the past few years. It talked about the seal of God and discussed several applications of how the word seal is applied in Scriptures. What occurred to me was the exciting fact that in preparation for the final exposure to the glory of God, it is critical that I be sealed with a perfectly cleansed atmosphere inside like a light bulb is sealed with an internal vacuum so that when the power is applied I will be able to glow perfectly with glory and not burn out quickly. That gives me a whole new view of the sealing referred to in the book of Revelation.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Miracles for Launching

Stories of miracles and personally experienced miracles may be only the ground-based apparatus that is designed to launch us into the realm of living a life in joyful flight through the air. The enormous thrill that one can experience in uninhibited, unencumbered flight, soaring and swooping through the air with the new-found ability to see things from a far greater perspective and to rise high above all problems and confusion is the experience that God desires for us to live in as being normal. But fear keeps most of us grounded and satisfied with simply walking around slowly in our extremely limited little world, thinking that this is all there is to life.

The difference between living life limited by our assumptions about the restrictions of gravity stuck on the surface of the land, and living the abundant, thrilling life of soaring flight that enables us to rise above the depressing clouds of doubt and fear into the sunshine of glory and love and true freedom – this difference is analogous to living life trapped in the world's way of thinking and reasoning and heaven's reality of freedom, joy and love.

Too many times I suspect that we believe that our version of Christianity has opened up to us most of the basic insights and experiences that we will ever need to know. Oh, we believe that throughout eternity we will be adding to our database of knowledge, but somehow we often come to think that our understanding of what it means to be a Christian and to live life in righteousness is sometimes pretty much outlined in our thinking now and we become very resistant to anything that challenges our narrow paradigms.

Some of us also tend to hanker toward wanting to see miracles of some kind in our lives, though many times this desire is held in secret. If we are really honest about this I think we would notice that we like to use miracles to justify our insistence that our system of doctrines and standards are the right ones. Of course we then have to rationalize that if other people are experiencing miracles who do not believe like we do that their miracles must likely be counterfeit and are therefore from the enemy. Or we may move toward an attitude of apathy about miracles because of the obvious problems they raise about who's beliefs they are used to justify.

While it is very true that miracles can originate from both God and from His enemy Satan who uses them to deceive many into believing his false ideas, I think we have some other general misconceptions about miracles that tend to confuse and mislead all of us.

It has been observed by many that it seems to be a pattern in the lives of some Christians that early in their experience they sometimes see many more miracles than they do later in their walk with God. This pattern also seems to fit evangelism in certain regions of the world. Whole groups of people sometimes experience many miracles in their midst when missionaries first begin working with them bringing light and truth about God into their darkened cultures. But the more mature and settled they become in living life in the truth it seems that the cutting edge miracles tend to taper off or may be replaced with counterfeit miracles designed to draw them away from the truth. This tends to work most effectively for those who have become addicted to miracles.

Miracles themselves are generally considered to be events, healings and interventions that cannot be explained through natural means and are thus considered supernatural. I certainly believe that miracles are often supernatural, though not always. I also believe that miracles are very much within the bounds of natural laws of nature but laws at are now still beyond our awareness. A thoughtful person will realize that there are still yet many aspects and principles about the physical world that we have yet to know about, and so anything that operates outside of our present understandings but still within the principles we do not yet understand is generally considered a miracle or an unexplained phenomenon.

But what is the purpose of genuine miracles performed by God in our lives? I suppose there may be many answers to that question that could all be correct. But one thing I am sensing is that one of the main reasons for true miracles is to radically challenge our paradigms and stimulate us into viewing God in a totally different light than we have before. In fact, that may be one of the most important reasons for every genuine miracle. That might also help to explain the reasons for counterfeit miraculous events because they will be designed to convey or reinforce false ideas about God to keep us confused and distant from Him.

One way they accomplish this is to feed into our addiction and lust for continuous miraculous signs that we falsely believe will motivate us or others to live righteously. This can be seen in the interaction between Jesus, one of the world's greatest miracle workers, and many in Israel who became more interested in His miracles than in the real message He had come to reveal to them about His Father. Jesus only performed miracles for the purpose of conveying truths about God that had been so buried that people had lost consciousness of them. Their perceptions of God were dark and foreboding and full of fear and intimidation. They saw God as something of a tyrant or as an unconcerned, apathetic onlooker to their suffering and pain Who chose to do nothing to help them. They did not believe God really cared about their hearts, their lives or their problems except maybe to make demands that only seemed to exacerbate their frustrations. Things are not any different today.

Jesus came to smash the world's paradigms about how God feels about us and relates to us. Jesus declared that He was a perfect demonstration of what God was like without any variation. And in that role He entered into a life of reaching out to people's hearts, identifying with their problems and pain and offering a radically different paradigm of God that aroused intense interest. But it also aroused equally intense bitterness, alarm and opposition by everyone who chose to resist His love. He exposed the fallacy of power and control people use as the means of attempting to live in successful relationships with each other. He exposed that most of our thinking and assumptions about life and about God were pretty much completely upside down from what is real. And He used many miracles to effect dramatic changes in the lives of those who chose to believe, even a little bit, in the message He had brought about how God wanted to relate to them.

But fallen human nature is insistent on living life oriented in the externals and so it soon became evident that many were becoming addicted to the emotional rush and excitement of seeing miracles and were desiring that “high” more than they were willing to believe the truth about the God who was performing these miracles. The very things that God was trying to use to launch them into a completely different way of thinking and living – a way of life analogous to flying freely through the air and soaring high above the clouds – these miracles were becoming objects of attention and focus more than the loving Father who was providing these miracles.

God ways are always being subverted by Satan to become means of distorting our picture of God and thus believing lies about Him circulated by the father of lies. Everything that God tries to do or has put into place to reveal the real truth about Him is counterfeited by Satan so subtly as to make these falsehoods look legitimate and to convince us that God is not as good as He claims to be. The counterfeits are designed to appeal to the externalistic focus of our fallen natures and to make false gods out of many of the things God has provided to point us toward Himself. In this way miracles too, can become a kind of false god that we crave and come to worship instead of allowing them to launch us into the air and begin to live a life of trust and faith in the character of God. I believe this may help explain why God tends to use more miracles early in the experience of some Christians and not as many later on.

Consider a glider aircraft that needs to be launched into the air in a very small area too small to accommodate a runway for it to take off on. Suppose that something like a giant rubber band or other such launching apparatus was arranged to aim the glider upward and propel it up away from the earth giving it time and speed to begin to interact with the atmosphere in ways that enabled it to fly.

Now suppose that the glider somehow decides that the launching apparatus is more to be desired than flying freely through the sky. Maybe the glider is afraid of heights or of the clouds that shadow its visibility of the sun. What would happen if the glider decided to stay attached to the launching apparatus and refused to disconnect from it after being launched? Well, it would then look more like inverse bungy-jumping than it would soaring through the air with the greatest of ease. And ultimately the end results would look something very much like death and destruction.

I think we should not be afraid of miracles or be eager to discredit them. At the same time I believe that we need to shift our focus from the immediate pleasure and joy that we experience in either personal miracles experienced or in hearing about the miracles of others and seek to find out the real reason why these miracles were given. Instead of becoming addicted to stories and experiences of the miraculous, we need to learn how to go far past them and live life in the spirit realm with the Spirit of God beneath our wings. We must allow ourselves to be launched into the real truth about the character and feelings of God and enter into the thrill of personal, intimate fellowship with Him in the joy of flying.

So here's a sound-bite for another analogy that might possibly be developed. Are the wings that keep us airborne called faith and hope and is the fuel for our aircraft love?

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Getting Closer to Real Identity

A couple nights ago I attended the Monday night young adult group that I have been enjoying for a few months now. The discussion that evening revolved around asking the men (the women left earlier for their own private discussions) about who they perceived themselves to be. The answers that began to emerge also began to trigger more and more memories in my own mind and I decided to write them down to observe what was happening inside.

This issue of discovering my real identity has been very prominent in my life over the past few years as anyone who has read much of my blog might realize. The comments that these young men were making highlighted many of the aspects that I have been working through for some time. I shared briefly some of what I observed but then sensed that the time was not ripe to go too deeply. But I still want to revisit this myself and unpack it a little more thoroughly for my own benefit.

One thing that has become clear to me over the past few years is that there is a significant difference between my perceived identity and my true, God-given identity. Confusion over this matter at the heart level has been the source of possible over 90% of my problems for much of my life. Because I have believed lies about myself imparted to me through many various ways, I have often acted out of those false, assumed perceptions about myself and consequently have lived in defeat and discouragement much of the time. I have been challenging those assumptions far more frequently and aggressively over the past few years and have also sensed an increasing and correlating level of freedom and peace inside.

As I sat there listening to these men speak of who they thought they were and sometimes struggling to know if what they were saying was really true or just performance-based identity, I began writing down key words that resonated distinctly from my own past, words that described how I have often perceived myself or the feelings that swirled around inside of me.

What condensed out of this stimulating discussion were these descriptions:

Rebellious – Bitter – Sarcastic – Cynical. I'm sure I could add a lot more, but that was a pretty accurate assessment of what I have often felt inside and sometimes still do. There were many reasons for this and there were also many incentives to intensify these attitudes, but generally this was my self-perception and was also what many others believed me to be.

Some other interesting things emerged that I had not connected to this issue from some of the comments the men were making. I can remember a number of occasions that internally I would be contemplating the idea that somehow many of my internal problems and feelings of rebellion and resistance would disappear after my father would die. But then my logical mind would immediately kick in and remind me that contrary to setting me free I would more likely feel hopelessly trapped in my ruts of thinking and feeling because there would no longer be any hope of resolving my tensions with my father after he was gone. It was logically very clear that becoming free of one of the main sources of my bitterness and rebellion would do nothing to set me free from the internal chains that tortured my spirit so many years, but still my heart wanted to imagine that this would be true anyway.

What I now realize more clearly is that many of my problems have been because I believed my identity was based on my performance, good and bad. My identity was assumed to be the sum of my actions and attitudes and I'm sure that was directly reinforced by much of the teaching that I received while growing up and even later. This is all very typical in the formation of a counterfeit identity that is founded in the flesh, the part of me that is pride-based and believes that value only comes from achievements. This style of identity and belief about value is the way that all the world operates and so it comes as no surprise that I was caught up in the deceptive strands of this kind of thinking. But it still had its destructive effects on my life as it does for everyone caught in this trap.

This problem became much more clear to me a few years ago when we had some very insightful friends spend a few weeks with us. They specialize in ministering with people to help them get past their emotional and spiritual blocks to begin discovering their true value and bring healing to their dysfunctional relationships. One of the most important insights they shared with me was that they saw me as an image manager. During that time I wrote about this a number of times as God impressed me that indeed this was very true and that I needed to become aware of the damage it was causing my life and how it was inhibiting most of my relationships.

My image management skills were always ready and active to manipulate what others thought about me since my sense of personal value largely came from what others thought. I have always been a rather independent person, a loner of sorts, so this realization came as a bit of a shock to me. But as I was willing to be more honest to see what was at much deeper levels of my heart than I was used to looking, sure enough there was intense concern about keeping a good image and projecting the kind of person that I wanted to be. That also meant withholding information about myself even from close friends because of intense fear of rejection. I also discovered a great amount of shame that I had never been aware of before and realized that I have never learned emotionally how to become free of shame.

I began to work to unlock this problem in my life but have struggled to know how to do that properly. I have many times disclosed myself to people who later used what I shared with them in trust to attack me publicly and sometimes even tried to deliberately discredit me to others. I still wonder how wise it was to open myself to them and need to learn that there is also the issue of maturity that needs to be taken into account when choosing who to trust and who to refrain from disclosure. But neither do I want to adopt the common assumptions that pervade the heavily guarded nature of most relationships for that leads me right back into the image management trap once again.

But enough on my counterfeit identity and problems. What I also wrote down that night was my ongoing pursuit of finding my true identity and beginning to live life in a more positive, fulfilling way as I move into living from the true heart that Jesus has already implanted within me. I still do not know very much about this real identity but interestingly I had just a day or two before this meeting asked God to begin to show me my true identity. And something had happened that I might nearly have forgotten if this discussion had not brought it back to my attention.

I remember sensing something of a communication one morning, a reminder that for many years my heart had admired the stories of Barnabas in the New Testament. It seemed that there was little chance that I would ever be known as a “Son of Encouragement”, which is what his name meant, but I really wanted to be that kind of person. Suddenly, as I was thinking about that it struck me – the bitterness and negativity that has plagued me for so many years is Satan's strategic attempt to attack and block the most important part of my identity. These problems that have been the hallmark of my counterfeit identity are the exact opposite of the characteristics of Barnabas and what he was known for. Maybe God was now beginning to reveal to me that this admiration of Barnabas and longing to be like him that has been inside of me for so many years are indeed strong clues as to my true identity, the part of me that uniquely reflects a certain facet of what God is like.

As I sat there listening to the men continue to discuss this issue my curiosity was aroused. I wanted to know how this fit in with the Scripture that twice had been given to me by small group leaders at the end of some group ministry sessions received during Ancient Paths seminars. I wanted to know if there was a correlation between this new revelation about myself and the verses that had deeply impressed me back then.

And the spirit of the Lord will come on you with power, and you will be acting like a prophet with them, and will be changed into another man. And when these signs come to you, see that you take the chance which is offered you; for God is with you. (1 Samuel 10:6-7 BBE)

I have felt that this was an indication of something that is going to happen to me that will dramatically alter the way I perceive myself as well as my whole life experience. I have no idea of how or when it will take place, but I do believe God is slowly preparing me internally for this outward experience to simply reveal what He has been doing internally for a very long time.

What is also interesting is that Barnabas was apparently the first and only person in Jerusalem who had enough faith and love and boldness to approach Saul of Tarsus and act as an intercessor and mediator to bring him into the fellowship of the other believers who were too bound by fear to think that far outside the box. Saul of Tarsus interestingly, was very likely named after the first king of Israel, Saul of the tribe of Benjamin that the above verses refer to originally. Saul of Tarsus was also of the tribe of Benjamin and soon became the world-famous Paul who ended up writing most of the New Testament and helped to turn the whole world upside down according to the reports of his enemies. But it was Barnabas that had enough courage to be a channel of the grace of God to bring Paul into the confidence of the church.

Barnabas seemed to always being doing those sorts of things. Pretty much every time he shows up in the Bible he is sticking up for an under-dog of some sort and trying to encourage and change the thinking of the more powerful and influential to perceive things differently. This even prompted him to have to stand up to Paul himself with a tenacity that would not allow John-Mark to be marginalized after pulling off a dismal first performance on a missionary trip.

I personally believe that Barnabas was a prayer-warrior that took the instructions of Jesus very literally when He taught us to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. I believe that Barnabas had been specifically praying for Saul for some time and had targeted Saul so intently in his prayers of faith that to him Saul's dramatic conversion was almost a given; it was something he was expecting and so he had no problem being the first to embrace Saul and invite him into the fellowship of believers who were also learning to trust the love and grace of God more fully.

Like Barnabas, I have definitely been the type of person to challenge the status quo at times and desire to think outside the box on a regular basis. I do not do this just to be controversial but I feel it is important to challenge beliefs and assumptions if we are ever to grow into more complete truth. I continually challenge myself to find out what words really mean and how they really fit together, not just what people say or have always taught. This has been very rewarding and life-changing for me and I have grown tremendously over the past few years as a result.

In my research on the history of Barnabas I was also surprised to find that Barnabas was only a nickname given to him, it was not his original name. That to me was significant because I too want to have a new name that is not the description that I have too long assumed about myself and my identity. I want to have the name that God has known me by since long before my parents ever thought of me. I think I am starting to get a little clearer picture of the real identity that God implanted in me and wants to foster and mature into full revelation.

My old identity was based on performance, much of it dysfunctional and very performance-based.

My new identity must be found in what my heart was designed to do with passion.

My old identity sought to grasp for recognition and a sense of value by extracting it from others.

My new identity must learn to only look at God's face to know my real value – nowhere else.

My old identity is hopelessly entrenched in doubts and refuses to accept God's words to my heart in faith.

My new identity is a gift of grace and will always trust in the Giver of that grace to finish the work He has begun in me.

My old identity falls short of the grace that I need and consequently fosters roots of bitterness to poison not only my own life but all those around me.

My true identity knows that only grace can save and transform me and that God's faithfulness is the most important part of my salvation and I can only reflect faithfulness as I keep focused on Him.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Enslaved by Straw

I had an extended dream last night of trying to figure out a way to attach my picture to a driver's license that was older and didn't have a picture on it instead of getting a new driver's license. I wanted to avoid going through all the security hassle that getting a new license would entail, so most of my dream involved trying to glue a new picture onto an expired license. But then I kept realizing that this would be considered forgery of a government document. But the dream kept repeating itself in spite of that.

But then something unusual interrupted the flow of this repetitive dream that caused me to wake up a little bit. It was like a message from heaven, though I also realize that it was linked to something I heard Shane Claiborne say from the recording of a fascinating discussion I recently downloaded from Amercian Public Media. The message was that I should not be so obsessed with wanting a license with my picture on it issued by the government because what it really is in heaven's eyes is the badge of a stolen identity.

Shane was referring to the story when Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees about paying taxes to Caesar. The answer He gave was that Caesar could have his money back that had Caesar's picture stamped on it but that he had no ownership over people because they were created with the image of God imprinted in them. In my dream I sensed that this issue went even deeper but along the same line of reasoning.

Society today is all astir and agitated about identity theft and many people are becoming somewhat paranoid and obsessive about trying to hide or destroy anything that might be used to find out any details about themselves. The media keeps this fear very much alive by pushing stories of people's lives “ruined” because of identity thieves finding their social security number, credit card numbers etc. So people are buying paper shredders and sharing stories of phone cameras taking pictures of their credit cards and generally increasing the level of stress in people's hearts to an even higher level of worry. Sometimes I wonder if the identity that they are trying to hide from everyone else is really all that much worth protecting. But that is partly another but related issue.

Identity theft is really a situation where a person gets enough information about another person to convince a business or public service to extend credit to them or sell them goods based on the numbers and names they provide. It can certainly have a devastating effect on a persons credit history which seems rather difficult to reverse even though it was quite easy to accept false charges in the first place. It seems a little baffling that credit agencies have little trouble adding problems to a person's credit history but seem rather resistant to just as easily believe the truth from the actual person trying to rectify the situation.

Identity theft does certainly create a great deal of frustration and problems for people who are victimized by it and many times the long-term effects are never completely erased. There always seems to be a cloud of doubt left over a person's reputation even though they had nothing to do with the original problem. But what does all this have to do with the identity theft that I am referring to as seen from heaven's eyes?

God is extremely protective about the “currency” called humans that He created with His picture on them. In addition, and quite unlike our currency which is not backed up by anything whatsoever of worth, the currency that God created has infinite value that is very real and tangible. The pledged value of every human being is literally backed by the life of the Son of God and He was willing to put it on the table when the value of His “currency” was called into question. Because of this, God and all of heaven is very keen to protect the identity of the people that bear the stamp of heaven.

But Satan has invented a very complex and massive counterfeit currency system along with a counterfeit of God's government and this can easily be seen in the way earthly governments operate. This is not just some theory or a religious notion that is irrelevant to our life right now. This is very real and presents a problem that most people are completely unaware of but affects their lives pervasively. One of the big issues in Satan's counterfeit system reflects his desire to literally steal the identities that God gave us and to replace them with counterfeit identities that we have come to believe is our real identity.

Think carefully about these words of Jehovah spoken from the flames and smoke and thunder on Mount Sinai thousands of years ago revealing the fundamental truths about God and reality.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: (Exodus 20:4 KJV)

You are not to make an image or picture of anything in heaven or on the earth or in the waters under the earth: (Exodus 20:4 BBE)

I understand that some people have taken this to mean that we should never engage in photography of any kind because this might be breaking the Law of God. I am not going to tackle that issue because I believe that God is far more concerned with issues of the heart. On the other hand, the things we do externally usually reflect the realities that are believed at the heart level and so the things we consider important and give great value to reveal what we actually believe about our own identity.

I am just starting to sense after this dream that quite possibly our society's belief, being intensified lately by increasing pressure from the government, that we have to be obsessed with our external identity and are fully responsible for it in some way. This notion itself is a means of making us participates in the theft of our own true identity. We may actually be discovered to be co-conspirators in the attempt by the world to set up an alternative identity in order to obliterate our awareness of our true and far more valuable identity entrusted to us by our original Creator. And part of this identity theft is the use of an identity card carrying a requisite image of our faces on it as an attempt to give a face to this false identity.

Some have learned that this false identity is well known in higher government circles and the fraud is strongly promoted there but not revealed to the average person. Millions are led to believe that this is just that way we have to cooperate in order to get along in this society. That may be true if we are willing to be a cooperative accomplice in our own identity theft. But I am beginning to see that this may not be viewed with favor from heaven's perspective.

In some circles this false image fabricated to replace us is called our “straw man”. For those of you not yet familiar with this term and still uneducated as to what is going on behind the scenes, your straw man is the composite identity that is created by the government at the time of your birth and introduced by your birth certificate. It's name is usually spelled in all capital letters on government records and increasingly more and more of your personal information is being collected to add to the government database being compiled on you.

But what is often seriously misunderstood is that this straw man identity is not the same person as the “human flesh and blood you” that God created in His image. It is a fictional entity that is also classified as a corporation so that the IRS can then claim that “you” owe them taxes. The IRS has absolutely no jurisdiction over sentient human flesh and blood beings in the various States of the united States of America – no one has ever been able to produce the law requiring humans to pay taxes on the money they earn from their labor. (If you can find it you can collect a $10,000 dollar reward) But the IRS does have the ability to tax corporations. Therefore it is imperative that they deceive everyone into believing that they are the fictional corporate “person” created by the government at their birth so that all their life they will assume that they are required to return taxes.

There are many elements that go into making up this fictional straw man that goes by the same-sounding name as that given to you by your parents. The Social Security number assigned to your fictional person is a key element in tracking and compiling all the information possible to add to the identity and value of this fictional straw man. And now it has been enacted by Congress that every person must procure a high security I.D. card, generally in the form of a driver's license, that will soon become the control point for the government to manipulate all of your behavior and access to most anything a person wants to do to interrelate with others around them.

The false, counterfeit governments of earth are doing everything possible to obliterate our perception of our true identity in order to keep us fixated with our fictional identity and believe that our straw man is our real identity. Very many people have already been quite convinced of this ruse and are even ready to commit suicide against their God-given body and soul whenever their fictional person gets into deep trouble. Tragically, what they do not realize is that the fictional person has very little to do with their real identity and their belief that it does is only a false belief, not a fact. But a falsehood believed has the same effect internally as if it were true if it is not exposed and rejected.

So I am starting to see that the urgency of my mind during my dream to think that I must have a driver's license with an image (idol) of my face on it in order to live a normal life is really in opposition to the second commandment in the Law of God. For me to buy into the belief that my identity is composed of my license, my credit records, my bank statements, my work history etc. is to accept the assertion that the false identity created in my image is in fact the real me. This is, in fact, another revelation of my false belief that my value is determined by my performance and my reputation in contradiction to the opinion of my Maker. It is to confirm what Satan is hoping I will believe and to subject myself to all the manipulations that correspond to being the slave that the straw men was created to be for the use of the state.

A most important verse precedes what we usually think of as the Ten Commandments and if it is overlooked we completely miss the context and power of those Revelations of God. Then God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:1-3) If I do not believe in my heart that I am not a slave, that my real identity is not tied to a fictional person created by the State; if I do not truly believe in my heart that I have been set free from the godlessness represented by Egypt and am no longer a slave to be manipulated and controlled by those slave-masters, then I will be vulnerable to the stresses and fears, terrors and intimidations promoted and rehearsed by those masters and will remain a slave to be continually abused by them. And I will not be free to obey the perfect Law of Liberty. (James 1:25)

If I accept the assumptions about my identity by the media and the government in their communications to me as fact, then I will believe their assertion that I am still a slave and will continue to act like one. In doing so I will have accepted the replacement of my true, God-imparted identity (which I may have never even known) with the false, stolen identity that has usurped my position in life and robbed God of His purchased property. I will live in fear under the threats and intimidations of these earthly slave-masters and will be controlled by other's false assertions about me instead of living in the freedom purchased for me by Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15)