Random Blog Clay Feet: 2008-11
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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Discomfort with Judgment

I was sitting in church pondering some of the issues that were being discussed and/or avoided and I began to think again about the relationship of judgment to other things in life. For instance, why is it that the closer one gets to really knowing God the more uncomfortable one can become? After all, one of the main reasons many of us try to know God to start with is to find relief from much of our pain, both physical and emotional. And yet when we truly come to God with our hearts finally starting to open to receive love for maybe the first time in our life, we find that coming into His presence stirs up old issues that cause us to squirm and duck and try to avoid what we are being convicted of that we don't want to face.

But as I thought about this it started to make much more sense to me. After all, God is really the most powerful judge in the whole universe, and we expect to come close to Him without facing judgment? Come on, get real! You can't expect to cozy up to One who's very identity is that of Judge while expecting to avoid judgment can you?

So in that respect it should be no surprise at all that when we start to get serious about knowing God that we will begin to feel the effects of true judgment in our lives. So how should we relate to this? Try to manipulate the Judge? Try to bribe Him with good works and lots of praise and worship? Try to remake Him into our image as one who is so lenient and loving and full of grace that He will overlook our mistakes and secret sins? Just how are we to get intimately close to the great Judge Himself? How do we deal with the natural reaction of fear when coming into the presence of judgment?

I am coming to understand that much of our problem with being afraid of judgment and true judges is that we have such a contorted view of what this really means. What I have been learning through careful study and observation is that the word judge and its related words like judgment and judging are in actuality simply talking about exposure of what is real and what is hidden on the inside.

Because so much of what we call judging in this world is a perversion of true judgment, we have come to be afraid of the idea of facing the final day of judgment before the throne of God. I am not saying there is not great reason for being quite concerned to be ready to face the judgment. But I am saying that our concern should be for possibly different reasons than what we have usually assumed.

Counterfeit judging usually involves arbitrary decisions based on arbitrary and often fickle rules and laws that are often conflicting and even unjust. Judges have come to be known for their unfairness and selfish interests in many of their decisions and millions are possibly imprisoned right now, not because they are guilty of any real crime but because prosecutors, lawyers and judges have colluded to find someone to blame to take the heat off of their own unjust system of political power sharing.

Earthly judging also almost always involves imposing shame on others, whether it is imposed by a court of law or whether it is the judging that we typically do to each other in the normal course of our day. In addition, nearly all of the news that we hear from the media is skewed to create assumptions of judgment even before we have heard all the facts. We are being trained by our culture in constantly judging others while at the same time desperately trying to avoid being judged ourselves. As a result of this mindset that is so widely pervasive we have assumed that God acts pretty much the same way we do, handing out arbitrary decisions and imposing them on the guilty with force that cannot be questioned.

But is this really how God relates to the children that He loves so tenderly? Is God the Judge different than God our Father? Do we find ourselves wishing that God would judge others harshly who are hurting and oppressing us but want Him to extend extra grace to us and our kind? Are we so bent on insisting that God is just the way we insist that He must be that we cannot see the real truth about how He feels about us or what is involved in real judgment?

I am becoming much more aware that real judgment really means open exposure of what is inside the heart, what the true motives are that cause us to do and say the things that others see on the outside. If what is truly on the inside is less than honest or honorable or moral, then we likely have very good reason to fear true judgment, for real judgment simply exposes for everyone to see clearly what we have been desperately trying to hide from them for so many years. And it is inevitable that as a person comes closer to the real God (not the God that religion has created in the image of the world's system) who is also the real judge that the person themselves will necessarily begin to experience the exposure of what is deep inside. This is only natural, for as John clearly explained in his gospel, the closer we get to the light the more clearly will our faults be exposed.

So what is the result of this unavoidable consequence of coming closer to God? What is becoming more clear to me is that an unwillingness to face exposure in our life, to face truthfully the inner faults, sins and corruption that lies deep within every one of our hearts, actually blocks us from knowing the real truth about God. For it is absolutely impossible for anyone to really become close friends with the real Judge without being willing to experience the exposure that is the essence of that presence itself.

I also believe that resistance to true judgment in the authentic presence of God is part of the foundation of all false and counterfeit religions in this world. Resistance to real judgment also is the root of many of the popular lies about God that so permeates much of our thinking and assumptions about Him. We suppose that we want to get close to God so we can feel better, but at the same time we resist the personal exposure that always accompanies coming into His presence. But knowing God for real and avoiding exposure is attempting an impossibility. The only way this is ever going to happen is if we substitute alternate, deceptive ideas about what God is like for the real truths about Him. And that is what happens most of the time in religious circles.

What are my gut-level immediate feelings whenever I hear about the great day of judgment? Am I afraid? Terrified? Intimidated? Motivated to strive harder to be a “good” person (whatever that means)?

One thing I am perceiving is that our initial reaction and feelings that we have at the gut-level whenever we seriously think about judgment reveals the truth about how we really feel about God too. For since God is in charge of the judgment and is indeed the Judge Himself, the judgment is going to reflect His own character and personality in how it is conducted.

Whatever people may think about judgment, the reality is that the secret thoughts and motives of every single thinking individual who has ever lived will be fully exposed for all to see plainly. But real judgment does not just take place at one time far off in the future. Those who choose to get close to the Judge today and accept His offer of salvation and intimacy with Him will have to be willing to seriously enter into judgment beginning right now. And this exposing of the secret things of the heart and life will continue to intensify and become more and more explicit the closer we get to maturity.

One thing I have observed is that God usually, if not always, starts at the individual level and brings conviction to the heart in an attempt to expose what needs to be dealt with and resolved with them alone before ever moving on to more public exposure. God is very kind and faithful and respectful of our feelings and freedoms. He wants us become honest with Him and with ourselves and to release our sins to Him that He exposes in private judgment with Him. If we are willing to cooperate with Him at this level we will be able to find the freedom and peace and integrity that He is eager to place in our hearts to avoid the public embarrassment of open judgment.

But if we resist His quiet convictions and refuse His offers of repentance, but instead deny our faults and problems, we force Him to become more and more public with the circumstances that bring exposure to what is hiding within. All through this process of personal judgment and exposure we have opportunity to accept repentance from Him and in humility confess the truth about what He is revealing to us about ourselves. As long as our heart is not totally seared from over-resistance to His Spirit we have opportunity to come into alignment with His will and His ways through His grace.

But there is also coming a day when everyone and everything will converge together to finally expose, not only the real truths about what is in each heart whether honest or deceitful, but will also be a surprising revelation or exposure of what is in the heart of God Himself. The great day of judgment – which really means the great day of exposure or revelation – is when every heart, motive and thought, both human, angelic and divine, will be laid out in full view for all the universe to finally judge according to the built-in principles of reality that are hard-wired into every living, conscious mind.

Am I still afraid of the judgment? Am I still afraid of God? Am I still afraid of others seeing what goes on inside my secret thoughts and imaginations? If I am aware of any of these fears, I am not to run away from them and the convictions of the Spirit, but my real hope is to acknowledge those fears as symptoms of things that have yet to be judged and resolved so that I have no fear of them coming out in the final judgment when it will be too late to have them removed from my character.

For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:20-21)

Jealousy or Joy

Those God places around me are quite often the ones who tend to trigger my faults and negative reactions the most easily. How I choose to respond to this situation determines whether or not I will grow spiritually, emotionally and socially.

The counterfeit system of religion that I am more familiar with than the true, generally causes me to try to avoid such uncomfortable interactions and to instead look for people who make me feel better about myself rather than trigger me. I don't think it is wrong or bad to have people around who want to encourage me or remind me of who I am in Christ; I think that is actually very important for all of us to have those people in our circle of friends. But the idea that I should be able to live outside the troubling atmosphere of those who more often trigger me than encourage me is a philosophy inherent in my old system of religion, not the real truth that I am now learning about how God intends to mature me.

I am trying to perceive my areas of blindness concerning this. I am praying for a different perspective, not only intellectually but far more importantly emotionally in the heart. I want to overcome my fears of those who can influence or control me with their ability to ignite my internal lies that anchor the handles by which I can be manipulated. I want to come into much closer alignment with God's way of thinking and feeling so that I will be the one exerting the stronger influence of attraction on behalf of Jesus instead of being the one operating under the influence of fear (OUI).

I want to be holy. That means that I want to be a person who's supreme desire is to exclusively draw attention to the beauties of God and His characteristics. I want to have the kind of influence on others that was seen in John the Baptist that caused Jesus to declare that "among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." (Luke 7:28)

These words have always seemed like a riddle to me, and I still am puzzled by them yet today. But I know that a very strong clue as to their true meaning is rooted in the attitude that permeated the life and activities of John and that are most clearly seen in his own testimony about his lifework and his true identity.

He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:29-30)

Those words about joy really resonate with a deep craving in my own heart. I so much desire to have a joy that is full and overflowing. It was this joy that was seen in the life of John that made him such a powerful and effective witness to attract people away from all the disappointing attractions offered by the world and to open their minds and hearts to consider heaven's offering in the Peace Child. Yes, I want to have the spirit of John the Baptist that gets excited about others getting excited about falling in love with Jesus and becoming His bride.

But another dark part of me is jealous and wants to play the role of the bride myself. And even worse, a dark part of me wants to steal away some of the affections of the bride from others to enjoy for myself instead of living to point others exclusively toward the only legitimate Bridegroom. This part of me rationalizes that there is plenty of love to go around and if people attach some of their affections onto me while I am sharing the beauty of Jesus with them there should not be much harm done. By indulging in this “flirtation” my own emptiness might be satisfied to some extent by enjoying a part of their affections while they should still have plenty left to connect their hearts to God as well.

But this kind of reasoning, no matter how subconscious or obscure it may try to remain, is another symptom of a deeply embedded lie in my soul that will betray both me and God's plans into the schemes of the enemy to undermine what God is accomplishing in the hearts of His children. This is where true holiness must be strictly understood and uncompromisingly obeyed. There can be no dividing of anyone's affections. Not only must my affections be totally surrendered to the Lover of my soul, my Savior and Redeemer, but likewise I must be just as jealous as John the Baptist was that the loyalty of every person coming to know Jesus is not diverted in the slightest by anything I may crave for my own heart. I must embrace fully the spirit of John the Baptist who lived his whole life to attract others exclusively to Jesus. John exhibited a complete and selfless commitment for the glory of Jesus. He must increase, but I must decrease.

To imagine that my joy could be made full by decreasing my importance in the eyes of others runs counter to everything that seems intuitive, but that is just the problem. Everything that feels intuitive almost always emanates from the flesh, and the flesh will always, always steer me in the wrong direction and give me answers that sometimes sound and feel correct but will in the end betray my heart.

Logic, reason and feelings tell me that to feel good about myself and to have joy I must cause others to like me, to want to be around me and to speak well of me. So I try to manipulate what people think about me through various means so that I can have as many people as possible affirming me, so that my fears and self-doubts can be reduced as much as possible. I naturally tend to try to use religion and religious activities to influence what others think about me so that they will maybe speak well of me sometimes and praise me for being such an upright, noble, true-hearted Christian.

It frightens me deeply to even give voice to these inner realities, for when they become exposed to the light of expression they also take on the darker shades of falsehood and hypocrisy that betray their true nature. To even acknowledge that these kinds of feelings and motives exist inside of me is shaming and causes me to want to deny them as really true. But to do that would be to once again hide from the very light of truth that is necessary if I am to ever to be free and experience the kind of full joy that John talked about.

I wish I could say that I have this all sorted out and have the answers neatly packed away and functioning in my heart. But that would not be true and would only be a denial of reality. I also wish that I could describe just how this condition is going to change, how from now on I am going to be completely transparent, honest, loving, unselfish and dedicated like John to drawing everyone around me into a passionate intimacy with Jesus while I am willing to stand by and watch them all pass me by and forget about me in the process.

I can say that I know I should be this kind of person. I do know that this is the true role that God wants me to fulfill. And I suspect that this is likely the only course that will lead me to that state of full joy that I so long to live in each day. But to say that this is what I am going to do and be from this point on would be the height of presumption – except for the catalyst of the presence of Jesus in my life that can accomplish the impossible in and through me.

As I look at my relationships with those around me, in my family and my church not to mention my almost total lack of any meaningful relationships with others in my community, I see very little evidence of the disposition described in these words from John the Baptist. No wonder my life has so little influence for God. But that is not to say that I am ready to just remain stuck in my impotence and fears. I cry out to God for deliverance from this evil man that controls me from within. I want to be transformed from the person described in Romans 7 to the joy-filled, Spirit-led life described in Romans 8. And all that I know to do to get there from here is to throw myself on the mercy and grace of God and trust Him to continue to guide and change and grow me.

God, I have such mixed motives down under the cover of looking good on the outside. Thank-you for exposing some of these to me this morning. I don't know how You are going to change me but I give You unconditional permission to do whatever it takes to transform my heart and mind and life into what You have in mind for me, even though saying that is very frightening. Continue to reveal more of Your glory to me and more of Your intense beauty. I want to be a clean, holy, passionate channel of Your glory to everyone who sees me just like John, Your friend was back when You started Your ministry on earth. Have Your way in me today. Fill me with Your humility, Your love, Your spirit of instant forgiveness, Your overwhelming kindness, Your grace for anyone who offends me today. Glorify Your name in my life and in the atmosphere around me today.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Our Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of our marriage after 31 years of life together. We have certainly been through many kinds of experiences together, had our share of difficulties in trying to learn how to get along and had many stresses that have tested our commitment to each other. But I can honestly say that we are glad to be together and continue to work on understanding each other more deeply.

Attempting to express things in this area of life is possibly one of the most hazardous undertakings I might venture, so I will keep my words as few as possible. My ability to give voice to our relationship is always subject to intense analysis by those who know me and then I tend to get defensive. But I can say that our commitment to each other is permanent and has been since the day we promised to love and cherish each other through good and bad times.

I remember taking my wife out to eat at a fancy restaurant in Houston, TX on our fifth anniversary and being surprised at the amazement of the people working there that we had been married for so long. Today it seems that being married at all can produce something along the lines of amazement since it seems that marriage itself is becoming obsolete in many circles. But I grew up in a home where divorce was not only out of the question as an option for a marriage but it was strongly taught that it should not even be entertained in the mind or ever become part of a discussion. I believe that growing up in that kind of background has given me the edge at times to push my way through some of the most difficult parts of our marriage and to only look at options that would bring healing and reconciliation when others would have been ready to bail out.

We have both done a lot of growing up in the last 31 years but still have a great way to go. We are not satisfied with the level of emotional intimacy and transparency with each other that we would like to enjoy, but we have come to respect much more each others freedom to grow at their own pace. I know that we spent too many years thinking that we could somehow change the other person so that they would be more like us. But this only created frustration and far too much conflict and tension in our home. When we finally came to the place where we were willing to just accept the other one as they were without preconditions, we began to have the freedom to relax and actually were more empowered to make the changes that needed to happen.

Our life has changed a great deal over the past 31 years together. We have had an empty nest for some time now and have ended up living in my parent's home near where I grew up, which is something I never wanted to do. But God has His plans for us and we are looking to see how to cooperate with those plans. For I know that it is only as we synchronize with God's plans that we will really experience the deep satisfaction that our hearts crave.

This weekend we are enjoying the visit of our daughter who was our firstborn. We learned a great deal about life in raising two children and wish so much that we could have known then even half of what we have learned in the past few years long after they were gone. But that is impossible and we have to trust our God to direct the lives of those we no longer have much influence over. We are learning the same lesson that we had to learn with each other, to leave them in God's hands, love them as they are and enjoy their company when we can.

We love our children and we love each other. We may not have the sparkle and energy that many couples have in their marriages but we have a deep commitment to each other and are learning to listen to God more each day. So for the love that became officially permanent 31 years ago today, I will say that I am yours and you are mine. I love you honey.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Reluctant Farewells

Today is my last day in Pennsylvania. I came here over a month ago to help my sister-in-law and her husband work on getting their house ready to move into by December 1. We have been working very hard to get it ready and have accomplished a lot, but it is time for me to leave. My plane leaves early tomorrow morning and I will get home just half a day before my 31st wedding anniversary with the love of my life and definitely better half.

This last weekend I once again attended the church in Wilmington, Delaware that I discovered three weeks ago. I posted my thoughts on this at that time and was very glad to find such a friendly church. Over the three weeks that I have attended there I have to say that it has only gotten better. The study class that I visited each week was so accepting and affirming and diverse that I could hardly believe it. I continue to be amazed at how ethnically mixed this church is in its composition with a large segment of members originating in Africa and some from Europe with a good cross-section of age as well. And yet I could hardly detect any spirit of competition or jealousy in this congregation. I am sure that they are not without problems, but the way in which they choose to relate to their differences has resulted in a group of people who seem to be reflective of the spirit that God wants to use to reveal His glory in this world. Their spirit of genuine friendliness still boggles my mind.

I was surprised at how many people in such a short time of me being there actually remembered my name and would greet me at random in the hallways. (This may puzzle someone who doesn't know me, but I am not an outgoing, greeting kind of person naturally.) I ended up spending the whole day there this week and nearly all day there was one person or another who would come up and spend time visiting with me. I even ended up inadvertently playing the piano briefly for an African choir that was getting ready to practice in the afternoon before I realized who they were. Then after their warm-up with some hymns that they insisted I play for them to sing, the director invited me to practice with them as they learned a new song. Later after they started practicing a song in Swahili I decided it was time to let them take it from there and I moved out to the hallway to see what else was going on. They ended up singing and worshiping for the whole afternoon, which one member in the hallway told me they do nearly every week.

As I visited the study class for the last time that morning I came with a sense of heightened emotions. I could not help but feel a great deal of sadness for leaving such a wonderful group of people who had welcomed me so warmly over the past few weeks. In fact, as they went around the room with each person relating what they were thankful for that week as they do each week, when my turn came I found myself unable to even speak over a few words. My emotions become so intense that I began to lose my composure. The teacher was very understanding and immediately guessed what was going on and verbalized my feelings for me. How gracious and kind. I just wish that I could take every one of these people back and import them into my church at home.

But I also cannot mistake the conviction that God has plans of His own for my church and that this refreshing reprieve for my soul is for a purpose. It is giving me perspective and a model for my heart to remember so that I can have some idea of what can happen if I will allow God to use me to initiate this same kind of friendliness and kindness to those in my own church. I have been praying for a new vision and new eyes to see each person in my church through heaven's eyes instead of the filters that I am so used to using. I want to perceive what God is up to and to join Him in cooperating with His ventures in my part of the world.

I have learned many things while I have been here this month. But more importantly my heart has received fresh infusions of experience from many different directions. Having access to high-speed internet while here has enabled me to download a number of talks and videos from inspiring sources that are having an impact on my thinking and direction. And of course, being separated from my wife for a month except by phone each day always reminds me of how important our relationship is.

I have really been blessed by getting to know my wife's sister and husband better. I have wanted to spend more time with them for a long time so that I could get to know them and I have not been disappointed. They are such kind and caring people who have done everything possible to make my stay here enjoyable and have bent over backwards to provide anything I wanted or might want. Both of them are very hard-working, fun-loving people who enjoy life and are devoted to each other. I am going to miss them after I leave as well.

But though I physically must leave many behind when I return home I will also take my memories and bonds of friendship with me for further development. I have been really blessed over these past few weeks and hope that I can be half as much of a blessing to others when given the opportunity.

We are looking forward to our daughter coming home for the weekend the day after I arrive. She is very special to us and we look forward to spending time together with her. At her suggestion we are planning to get involved in some activities to help be a blessing to those in need this Thanksgiving instead of just focusing on eating alone. I look forward to seeing how that develops.

Well, I must get ready for my last day of work here. I look forward to seeing my brother-in-law's brother once again who has been working with us the whole time on the house. He is also a very energetic and friendly person that I have very much enjoyed getting to know. Today will be my last day and I need to get everything packed and ready to leave tonight. So it is time for the goodbye's and the hello's of life once again.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hopelessly Saved

There are some thoughts that are starting to come together in my mind that I want to explore a little further. I recently heard some discussion about the doctrine of once-saved-always-saved that is quite popular among many Christians today. Apart from the fact that a careful study of Scriptures will not support such a theory, I pondered the significance of what this teaching portrays about how God relates to us and how He feels about us.

This doctrine claims that once a person has given their heart to Jesus and has been “saved” (according to a unique interpretation of this word), then nothing can ever change that immutable decision and they are locked into a guaranteed place in paradise. Nothing they choose from that time on for the rest of their life can reverse their situation with God or prevent them from entering heaven.

When it comes to people who have gotten “saved” but later turn away from God and live a life of open sin, the stress that such an example puts on the credibility of this doctrine is easily brushed aside by claiming that obviously the person was not sincere when they accepted Jesus the first time. It is claimed that they were just probably faking it and that they were not really saved at all but were just pretending to be Christian.

But instead of producing the effect of confidence and assurance in people's hearts as the intention of this doctrine seems to be, this kind of logic can actually produce even more doubt and fear about our salvation. For if it is true, as religious leaders claim, that people who wander off into deep sin after claiming to be saved were never sincere in the first place, then how do I know if my own encounter with salvation was sincere enough to stick? This teaching places much of the responsibility for salvation on our own shoulders by asserting that the level of our sincerity is the determining factor in whether we are really saved or not.

Because all of us have different feelings and moods at different times in our lives, we can never be completely sure how to measure our own level of sincerity about anything, much less try to second-guess someone else's depth of sincerity. Instead of producing boldness and peace in the heart to overcome sin in our life, we are too often subtly led down the path of judging – both ourselves and others. We are trying to live in an illusory world that is arbitrary and irrevocable and that actually robs us of much of our freedom of choice.

I am very sympathetic to our need for assurance and peace about our salvation. I grew up in a religious culture that was just the opposite as that described above and that itself has been the motivation for many to embrace this doctrine. I lived for many years in constant fear and uneasiness about whether or not I would ever make it to heaven and the religion in which I grew up seemed to intentionally like it that way. Insecurity about salvation was seen as something of an asset for promoting our desire to put more energy into striving for a perfect life to please God and get to heaven. And though it is seldom stated openly, the insinuation was always very present that only those who achieved complete perfection (whatever that meant) would ever enter the kingdom of heaven.

In reaction to this tendency toward legalism by people like us, those who embraced the opposite theology gravitated more and more toward the other direction and emphatically taught that it is impossible for humans to be perfect. I hear many Christians today who quickly insist that they will never be perfect because that is an impossibility – only Christ was perfect and all we can do is trust in His perfection as a substitute for us. This kind of logic seems to get us off the hook so that we don't have to take sin or righteousness too seriously; it allows us to remain comfortable with hanging on to whatever vices we think are just too difficult to give up.

This tension between opposing views of salvation has created endless arguments, heated debates and deep schisms among Christians for centuries. And instead of honestly seeking to know what God thinks about this or caring how our views reflect on God's reputation, we more often simply align ourselves with the teachings of whomever promotes what makes us feel the best and that most accurately corresponds to our preconceptions.

But I think one of the best tests for any doctrine or belief is to carefully consider how it causes us to view God and whether those ideas cause us to see Him as more consistent and loving or whether they paint Him as arbitrary and unpredictable. Does what we believe about God tend to project onto Him the characteristics that reflect what we are like or do they, by contrast cause us see our own faults and our disharmony with His perfect character? Do we find ourselves having to twist the plain truths about His unconditional and never-ending love to fit our own paradigms?

What I have seen over the years is that both sides of this debate are forced to use very twisted rationalizations and convoluted reasoning to substantiate their positions. They sometimes become very defensive when challenged about the logic and truthfulness of their respective positions and often resort to demanding that you must just believe and have faith that their teachings are true without understanding the reasons behind them. This is really resorting to force when the weaknesses of a theory begin to undermine its credibility. But the human heart is so aligned with the ways of selfishness and the logic of sinful thinking that sooner or later it seems we have to go back to fear and force and shame in our interactions with others who differ from us in order to try to maintain the kind of unity that we insist must be present in the body of Christ.

So what does it say about God if it is impossible for us to be lost after getting “saved”?

We often use the analogy of marriage to describe our relationship with God after becoming a Christian. I believe in many respects this is very accurate. But if we go with this illustration of our connection with God, does that mean that we are locked into marriage with Him no matter how miserable we become, no matter how much adultery and abuse we commit against our Husband? Does God force us to remain married to Him no matter how disconnected we become from Him or how much we want to be married to more exciting partners?

Malachi 2:16 says that God hates divorce. Does this mean that it is completely out of the picture as an option in our relationship with Him? This certainly seems to be part of the foundation of much of the theology we see today in beliefs about Israel. Christians are embracing teachings that claim that Israel is hopelessly locked into the promises God made to their ancestors no matter how rebellious they may have become. Consequently all sorts of scenarios are being presented to explain prophecies from the Old Testament that revolve around physical wars in the mid-east and Jerusalem being the worldly capital of God's kingdom on earth.

But there are other places in the Old Testament that clearly quote God as saying He had written a divorce for His chosen people. But every time He talks about this it is with intense anguish and is always based on the unfaithfulness of those He had worked so long to draw close to Himself. And prophecy itself actually reveals that shortly after His people crucified the Son of God and rejected their marriage with God, God reluctantly accepted their final decision and allowed them to divorce themselves from being His chosen bride. The New Testament is very clear that now the chosen people of God are made up of people from every imaginable description of people groups on earth who choose to accept His invitation to be bonded in love with Him.

But if we insist that once we have become firmly attached to a relationship with God that it is impossible for us to ever be lost, we are denying many plain Scriptures that teach the contrary. But worse than that, we are distorting the picture of God in the hearts of others and even ourselves by presenting a God who will not respect your freedom of choice once you have chosen to follow Him. This kind of thinking is far from making Him more attractive – it actually makes Him out to be more of a despot locking us to Himself like the slavery that sin holds over our lives. God wants to deliver us from abusive bondage, not take away our freedom to choose.

The marriage-type relationship that God offers to enter into with us is not based on an irreversible, one-time decision that we are never allowed to escape. It is a relationship of real freedom that allows us to grow in maturity, to make mistakes without fear of being rejected, of having the opportunity and time to grow up into Christ while not living in fear of losing our place in God's heart by acts of ignorance or even lapses of loyalty. What is really at issue here is God's faithfulness that challenges the assumptions on both sides of this doctrine.

For the “conservatives” who imply that we must be perfect enough for God to save us in heaven, the truth challenges us to examine the real nature of God's heart toward us and His complete lack of fickleness. It challenges us to trust much more in the faithfulness of God's love that will never, ever end. It reminds us that God's patience is not something that snaps someday when His dark side erupts in anger to destroy those who are not good enough for Him. The truth about God and reality is actually far better than we have ever dared to dream.

For the “liberals” who believe that perfect obedience is never possible and that God refuses to let anyone leave Him after making a decision to follow Him, the truth challenges us to examine our dim view of His power to transform us and restore us completely into His perfect image. It is true that righteousness is never about our achievements in being “good”, but at the same time we must stop underestimating the power of God to accomplish in our lives just what He says He intends to do. Living a righteous life – which is crucial to being prepared to survive the rare atmosphere of heaven in His presence – is not something we are supposed to achieve by our own efforts but is something that we have to allow Him to accomplish in us if we ever want to see His face and live. This is accomplished when we change our pictures of God and seek to dwell on the real truth about Him. For as we focus on His perfection we will inevitably become transformed into that perfection, not by our own efforts but by the principle of beholding.

Let is not accuse God of robbing us of our freedom to choose whom we will serve. Our destiny does not hinge on just one choice in our life but on the direction of millions of daily choices. All throughout eternity we will continue to have complete freedom to choose whether or not to be obedient and loyal to God, for this kind of freedom is the only climate in which real love can flourish.

The last part of the verse from Malachi that where God says He hates divorce has one of the most important messages to each one of us who desire to truly know how to be saved. God says, So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously. It is never God's idea to initiate a divorce, but ultimately He will always respect the final choices that we make about our relationship with Him and His offer for us to spend eternity in close fellowship with Him.

What I want to experience more fully in my own life is a clearer view of God's true character, to even see the emotions reflected on His face, to be filled with the same passionate love that ever flows from His heart. I want to have such a clear view of God that my life will glow with His glory and sin will lose all its attraction and effects on me. I want to know the life of natural righteousness, not forced perfection. I love a God who values my freedom so deeply that He will not lock me in without options to a life in heaven with Him when my desire may be to live in selfishness. I like it that God respects me that much.

Father, show me Your face more clearly today. Fill me with the assurance that comes from Your faithfulness and Your compassion. Thank-you for the truth I find in Your Word about You and how You feel about me. Continue to draw me closer to Your heart and cause me to reflect Your beauty more accurately so that others will better see Your loveliness in my life.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fire In The Hole

I am aware, but probably not nearly enough, of my lack of natural appreciation and gratitude. But there are times when things happen that simply cannot be missed, especially by someone who really wants to learn to be more grateful. One of those events happened to me yesterday and I do not want to let it go unnoticed or underrated.

I was working with my brother-in-law getting his house addition ready for them to move into in a couple weeks. I have been working with him and his brother for several weeks now and have enjoyed working with them with their fun-loving, hard-working, easy-going attitudes. I was helping to put in a floor addition that will expand the size of the living room to a more comfortable space and was starting to nail the floor joists into place.

The room addition was inside the garage that we recently built and the day was a rather gloomy, rainy day outside so the light was rather poor. In addition I was trying to work down close to the wall far from the doors or windows so it made it even harder to see where I was nailing exactly. Suddenly just after I shot the air nailer gun to fire a 16 penny nail (about 3 inches long) into the floor joist I felt the nail whiz past my ear and felt my glasses sitting a little askew on my face. I wasn't sure what had happened so I stood up and tried to straighten my glasses.

I finally took them off to see what the problem was and then realized what had happened. The nail had ricocheted from where I had intended it to go, had grazed my finger on my other hand drawing a little blood and then evidently had passed through the corner of my glasses on the way past the side of my head.

The more I thought about it the more I realized that I had been extremely close to either getting killed with a nail into my brain or at least loosing the sight in one eye, neither of which I have any desire to experience to say the least. I also sensed that God had used one of His angels to possibly guide that nail past my face and even through my glasses in such a way as to protect me once again from harm that demonic forces would like to inflict on me.

I realize that many people would just chalk this up to really good luck. I know that it would be somewhat easy for me to do that as well unfortunately. But I also am becoming more aware that there is much more activity in the supernatural realm than we ever realize, and that sometimes their effects show up in things that we can detect if we are willing. And I also believe that our choices about our spirit and how we decide to relate to those supernatural forces have a great deal of influence to determine the outcome of events in our lives as well as the abilities of either side to work in our lives in the future.

So in light of this and as soon as it came to my conscious attention, I began to thank God very intentionally and sincerely for the protection that I knew had come from His hand. I also prayed that I would not downplay this incident due to my fear and shame that too often causes me to only talk about Him to people who are like believers. I want to be more real and more consistent in what I believe internally and how I talk and act around those who do not believe in God or think that He is not worth trusting.

I have observed that there are numerous times that I have been very close to serious harm and that it is completely possible that I have many times recently had supernatural assistance to prevent disasters that could easily maim or hurt me seriously. I know that there is no way of proving most of these encounters, at least to a scientifically skeptical mind with a predisposition to doubt God's care for us. I also strongly suspect that most of the deliverances I have experienced go completely unnoticed and the angels must be in constant amazement at my naivety. But that does not prevent them from continuing to serve and protect me anyway while hoping that I will soon begin to be more appreciative which may in turn give them more permission to work more actively in my life.

At any rate, I want to take this opportunity to thank God publicly for this very specific incident of protection. It causes me to be more conscious more about how blessed I am to have eyesight as good as it is, not to mention the rest of my head that could have been affected. And most of all I am so grateful for the fact that the reason God does things like this is because He is like that in His character and His desires toward me. It is because He is such a faithfully caring God that He looks after me each moment in ways I will never know until I am shown my life in heaven. But I can get to know Him better right now and learn to trust His heart and His consistently good intentions towards me irregardless of whether I am hurt or not.

Father, I want to praise you for protecting me and having your angels intervene on my behalf during this close call. Thank-you so much for your grace and mercy and kindness and faithful love. Dwell in me and cause me to be more free in my praise for you. Heal me of the shame that inhibits me from being more lavish in my gratitude. Thank-you for the work you are doing in me and the incredible plans you have for me. You are my God and I worship you in gratitude and humble appreciation.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Heart Talk and Worship

I just had a discussion with someone that opened my eyes a little bit more as to how much I am still influenced by my old problem of image management – living in such a way as to influence what others think about me. As I thought about it more this morning I also realized that this is one of the greatest inhibitions preventing me from being able to worship God freely as my heart desires to do.

In the culture in which I grew up and am still a part of to a great extent, there are some things about expressive worship that by many people in my culture are considered too far outside the box to be acceptable. Oh, they may or may not say something about it to me, but it is sufficient that inside my own mind the accusations and subtle feelings of condemnation are very present and effective. So generally, I don't feel the freedom to worship as my heart needs to unless I am in a completely different culture – which then presents its own different set of inhibitions – or more likely when I am totally alone.

Actually I am very resentful in a way, of this state of affairs. And I suspect God is not real pleased about it either. For if the worship that is due Him and that connects our hearts to each other is being short-circuited by the false gods of image management and men-pleasing, then in fact I am being controlled and am serving false gods in violation of the second commandment.

I became aware of this sinful condition in my life a couple years ago and wrote extensively about it then. I also think that my awareness of this state of my heart has at least help me to make some progress toward freedom, but I still have a long way to go. And it will not help to simply try to lay a guilt trip on myself in an attempt to shame or frighten me into changing the way I act and think. That is the counterfeit religious practice of my past that I am determined to turn away from. But at the same time I must be willing to accept both the attractions and convictions of the Holy Spirit and also the warnings that alert me to the tragic consequences that are inevitable if I refuse to submit to coming into harmony with the principles of reality as revealed by God.

I, like everyone else, am designed and wired at the deepest level of my psyche to worship. And I, like everyone else, will worship quite frequently even though it is not generally labeled with that term. But the more I understand the truth and substance of what makes up worship, the more I become aware that far too much of my worship is going to the wrong places. I am giving too much authority to false gods in my life, and as a result I have no room to view critically or harshly those in the Old Testament who worshiped idols and think how silly they were. When the light of truth begins to expose my own futile practices of living in fear of what others think of me instead of living in joyful service to my Creator and Savior, then I have joined them in their disloyalty and idol worship and am in need of repentance just as much as they were.

I do not want to keep hiding from this problem. I (at least a part of me) do not want to keep resisting the promptings of the Holy Spirit to be more open and honest in all areas of my life. I realize that I have some very intense areas of blindness in my thinking, but I continue to ask God to open my eyes and show me what I normally cannot see. I believe that this is just one of those blind spots that He is trying to get me to face more directly.

I actually feel very encouraged by this conversation I just had that helped me remember and see better this problem in my life. I feel encouraged in a strange sort of way when I see some of my faults because I know that God is showing them to me because He cares enough to offer me healing and restoration in that area if I am willing to accept and apply His grace to my heart.

During the discussion I was able to actually peek into some of the feelings behind my actions and inhibitions and realize that what I am doing much of the time is trying to avoid shame. Shame and fear are two of the greatest inhibitors in my life and are some of the worst slave-masters that keep me from enjoying the true freedom of the sons of God. Even many of my diversionary temptations are targeted at helping me to avoid facing the shame and fears that still lurk in the background and affect so much of my thinking and my relationships with others. My desires to watch movies are deeply rooted in trying to use pleasure produced vicariously through artificial emotional stimulation as a means of masking my real need to address the much deeper roots of shame and fear that haunt me from the background atmosphere of my soul.

But it is up to me to exercise my power of choice to face these things and to fast from anything that I may be using to avoid facing them. As long as I resort to anything that may help me procrastinate facing the inner pain of my past, the resentment that I carry toward others, the shame that is still so prevalent from my childhood and the fears that haunt me from the residual lies about God in my heart – as long as I allow those diversions to satisfy my hunger for real freedom I will remain in the slavery of bondage to those things even though I may feel like I am free on the surface.

The symptoms of that bondage can be seen in the inhibitions at the gut level that still bind me to the manipulation of what others think of me. I may be ever so independent in many ways and believe that what others think about me has little influence over my choice to live outside the box that others are trapped within. But in deeper ways that is still a mirage in many respects. At the heart level I still crave acceptance and affirmation and to be valued and appreciated by others. I suppose in some ways there is nothing wrong with those desires except when they cause me to subtly seek satisfaction for these needs from others above seeking God's face and believing in how He truly feels about me.

As I was sharing in my conversation, shame is one of the primary emotions that I still don't have very much skill in dealing with effectively yet. When I first became aware of the enormous influence and presence of shame in my life some time ago I was shocked at how much it controlled my thinking and my relationships with others. That is still true today, but it is very difficult to perceive it most of the time because it stays under the surface of my conscious awareness. So because I am not conscious of the presence and strong influence of shame's control over me I too often fail to take action to face it more directly and learn how to deal with it effectively.

During our discussion we both agreed that fear and shame are the primary problems that we both have to deal with and that strongly influence how we relate to others and inhibit our relationship with each other. We also realized that we really desire a mentor in our lives who could show us how to face this problem effectively and learn to live in the freedom and peace that our hearts crave so much. But the problem seems to remain that there are extremely few people around who are mature enough and willing enough to mentor others in the ways of God, and whoever they are they don't seem to be anywhere near our lives right now.

As a result it appears to me like God is going to have to mentor us directly without using any humans to be His agents unless He has someone in mind that we are totally unaware of at this point. Many times in my life when I felt totally alone going through intense struggles and wishing for someone to join me and emotionally guide me through those times, I wondered if maybe God was allowing me to go it alone in order to be trained to help others whom I would encounter later who felt totally alone. I can distinctly remember situations where I nearly felt like screaming out, longing for someone to be with me in my problems and frustrations to overcome problems in my life. But the only answer that seemed to come was that when I learned this lesson I would be better situated to have compassion and sympathy for others in similar circumstances.

I don't know what God has in mind for the process of my healing and I am cautious to try to second-guess how He plans to accomplish that in me. But I do know that what I am learning about Him from the Bible in my own personal encounters with Him each day is full of encouragement and is awakening more hope and love in my own heart. I ultimately have to come back to throwing myself on the promises and words of God that I find written there and trust His heart to guide me through the confusing maze of inner mysteries and outer temptations to the freedom and joy and security that my heart was designed to thrive on in His presence.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I got to thinking this morning about freedom. It came to my attention while I was remembering one of my own failures recently and how it related to my own freedom to choose what I do with my time. I thought about why I sometimes make the wrong choices even though I know it is not best for me and then I wonder what the real underlying reason is for me making those decisions. Thats when the issue of freedom came into the mix.

What I am starting to sense is that true freedom can only be enjoyed by advancing in true maturity. This may seem simplistic at first but I am always exploring the “whys” behind things to better understand how my mind works and understand others as well. So I wanted to think a bit more about this issue of freedom and I began to ask myself what freedom really is.

Right now I am thinking that freedom, at least in one important sense, is the removal or absence of artificial restraints. These restraints may be physical or they might be social or emotional. But freedom means that I am not inhibited or controlled by another person or institution or even artificial rules.

It is easy to observe this in the process of growing up and the increasing freedoms that we allow children to enjoy as they get older and learn to have more internal self-control. They learn skills and reasoning, but more importantly they learn to self-regulate and utilize their minds and hearts to make informed decisions based on various reliable sources of information and personal experience. They learn from cause and effect as well as learning from the wisdom of others who have experienced things they have not had to. They learn to consult and seek guidance instead of thinking they have all the wisdom necessary for life and as a result they are entrusted with more responsibility and given more latitude to make independent choices in their lives.

The amount of freedoms granted to young people by wise mentors and parents will be determined by the evaluation of the safety involved in the young person's abilities and preparedness for the next level of freedom. Safety does not mean that a person will never make a mistake but is based on the person's willingness to coordinate with others as well as acquiring personal training to prepare them for greater responsibility.

Preparing for greater freedom and responsibility involves synchronizing the mind with the principles that govern the circumstances for which a person is being trained. It is learning the skills, learning the potential problems as well as the correct way to do things and learning to have a level of self-confidence while interacting properly with others around them. It also involves learning to balance the various parts of the being to better function in ways that are both effective and helpful.

I decided to take this concept of freedom out to its logical extreme potential conclusion. And even though this world's system of restrictions and permissions is a far cry from God's view of real freedom, there are some parallels. Those who misuse their freedoms to inflict problems on others people's lives often find their own freedoms curtailed. The world's system of imprisonment for nearly anything and everything that crosses the whims (laws) of the ones in power are not a good example to examine to understand God's ways of justice. But the cause and effect relationship is still often valid.

But in the realm of true reality toward which we are all moving and must all live within sooner or later when the artificial system of this world finally collapses, we will have a much clearer view of what freedom is all about and how much God values it far more than we ever do.

One thing that came to my attention about freedom is that real freedom always involves a level of selflessness. Those who desire freedom for the purposes of serving their own desires and cravings do not understand the true nature of freedom. For real freedom has far more to do with internal peace and serving others than it has to do with allowing us to indulge ourselves without limitations. When we use our freedom to selfishly serve our own needs more than using it to improve our ability to bless others, we are on the road to losing our freedoms instead of improving them. This is not so much because of an arbitrary decision imposed on us as it is a natural result of the principles inherently involved. Freedoms misused are squandered away and sooner or later are lost.

In the kingdom of reality which is where heaven operates and toward which all of our destinies will ultimately be determined by our current choices, I believe that we will find that God intends for us to return to the full freedom that was once known in the universe before sin was ever thought of in the mind of Lucifer. Back in those times the angels and other created beings didn't even realize that there was such a thing as laws governing the universe. They simply lived them out naturally and their hearts and minds always functioned in loving, selfless service and praise in whatever capacity they found themselves involved in.

I think that quite possibly at some point in the future eternity after sin has been long gone from the scene that there is coming a point of perfect freedom again. All of the surviving beings living in the joys and perfection of paradise will once again find themselves so perfectly synchronized with the principles of reality that they may no longer even notice that there are underlying laws involved in day to day living. In fact, the following text came to my find that now makes more sense in this context.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34 NRSV)

The ultimate goal for most teaching is to increase our ability to enjoy freedom through the combining of greater knowledge and maturity. What this text seems to be saying is that there may come a time when we will be so mature and have the principles of reality so internalized that there will no longer be any need for such teaching. That sounds to me like the most ultimate freedom that anyone could ever imagine.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Church Encounter

I have been spending the past few weeks with my sister-in-law in Pennsylvania. The last two week-ends I visited different churches but with similar results – very disappointing. In both cases I practically walked in, spent the morning in class and church and walked out without hardly a person asking where I was from or what I was doing there. I know that some people would say that it would not be like this if I were more friendly myself and that is probably true to some extent. But I find it difficult to buy into the claims that our churches are generally friendly places to visit after experiences like this two weeks in a row although I am always reminded that I do not do much better to others when they visit my church.

Anyway, I decided last night to get on the web and see if there were any alternatives within reasonable driving distance this week. I found that there were quite a number of churches within 50 miles of where I am staying but most of them were either a bit too far or were of a nature I didn't feel like trying to visit – like being in a different language etc. But one church got my attention partly because it was listed as having about 500 members compared to very small numbers for most of the rest of them.

Now a bigger church certainly doesn't guarantee that it will be a friendly church, but on the other hand I felt that maybe there might be a good reason so may people wanted to attend there. It was at least worth a try for one week. If it didn't work out I still have two more weeks to try to find a place to at least find someone half-way interested in talking with me. Besides, I found out after checking out the map directions that this church was almost closer than most of the others I had visited even though it was in another state.

When I arrived this morning and walked in I was pleasantly surprised to be eagerly greeted by several people at the door who refused to let me go until they had asked me quite a number of questions while they held my hand. It did not change much for the rest of the time. I had person after person come up to me and talk with me, greet me, ask me my name and where I was from etc. and then tell me they were very glad to see me. And I sensed that it was not a put-on but these people had a spirit that was genuinely glad that I had come today. How refreshing.

Besides a friendly environment I was several times deeply moved, even to tears at times by some of the things that people shared during the service. I felt the Holy Spirit using words and music to touch my heart in a deep and meaningful way and I sensed that the Pastor also had an open spirit and mind. He preached on the Holy Spirit and I found it very compelling, convicting and moving personally. I suspect most people there were not affected nearly as much as I was, but God has been steering me along this line more and more recently and this was another step in that direction.

As is often the case I had to find a piece of paper so that I could capture the many thoughts that were swirling around in my head. All through the service I ended up jotting down things about the Holy Spirit and related ideas that were coming to my mind along with texts that were taking on new life and meaning for me while the Pastor was reading them. I was very blessed by the sermon and even heard it twice today as I attended both early and regular services. Since I had nothing else to do for the day where I am staying I decided to make a day of it if possible after arriving there early.

I was invited to stay for a lunch in the Junior Academy gym that I suspect is prepared weekly primarily in case visitors show up. It was good food and good fellowship as well. This is also a refreshing change from the much smaller church which I usually attend at home. There is generally something about a little larger church that makes it less stuffy and more relaxed than many small churches. In fact, this is one of the most diversely ethnic churches that I have been in for quite awhile and I was impressed with the seemingly complete lack of any racial tension within this community of believers.

I had some good talks with several people, was able to even get a chance to play the piano for a man I just met as he sang a couple songs after the service was over. He had sung one of them acapella for special music and I was wishing I could have played for him then. He is a more expressive singer which makes it much more difficult for him to find an accompanist, but that is also what I really enjoy when accompanying people. I like to play for people who put their heart into their singing in more expressive ways and I enjoy the challenge of trying to sense their emotions and synchronize with their expressions. He sang a couple very old gospel tunes that I recognized right away and we had a good time sharing music together.

At this point I certainly plan to go back to this same church next week and likely the last week I am here as well. Hopefully I can connect even more with some of the people I met today and maybe even establish some longer term friendships that might continue after I go back home. Who knows? But at least I have found a place that fulfills my desire to fellowship on Sabbath while I am away from home and I am very thankful for the welcoming spirit that I enjoyed today from all of these people.

I will likely meditate some more on the notes that I took today and write them up in a separate post. But that is what is happening in my life right now.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Digging Past the Sand

I began to think about something this morning that I want to unpack more. As I thought about the motivations that we seem to wait for before most of us get serious about drawing close to God or obeying His will, I noticed that most of those motivations are rooted in fear. It is a pattern that is very pervasive in most of our lives and I see it in mine just as much. We tend to procrastinate doing the truly important things we should do until dangers are so imminent that we feel we must get serious about God or it may be too late.

There are variations on this pattern but it seems to be rather consistent. Sometimes we might decide to move closer to God for other reasons, but much of the time we tend to prefer to maintain the status quo or maybe we want to continue to indulge in a few pleasures first before we feel that we have to give up what we enjoy and begin to follow God's ways more closely.

But as I thought about the results of this kind of thinking something alarming came to my attention. And it is not the fact that we might not have enough time to finish getting close to God before we may die or be killed as many people might warn. No, there is a much greater danger than even death itself that can preclude or at least greatly inhibit our ability and desire to get serious about our relationship with God. This hidden danger has to do with the very nature of fear itself.

I am coming to realize that what God desires and what we really need in order to be properly aligned with Him and strengthened during a time of crisis and intense pressure is not more information or just facts of truth. What we must have if we are to be ultimately found on the right side of the great spiritual battle about to explode on this earth is an intimate and unbreakable love relationship with our Creator, Lover and Redeemer. We need a confidence that goes far deeper than just head knowledge or emotional good feelings.

This is something that I am afraid most Christians know very little about though they may talk about it a great deal. And I include myself in that class. The problem is that most religion is so oriented for the left brain or is just based on emotions alone that an intimate and obedient relationship with Jesus at the depth and intensity needed to carry us through the intense times just before us is outside of our present abilities to even comprehend.

This intimacy with God that we need so desperately is very similar to the relationship seen in very healthy and dynamic marriages which are also rather in short supply today. It is a relationship that is filled with real romance, real devotion to the other person and total commitment to the relationship no matter what may come or how one may feel. This is a covenant relationship that ultimately supersedes even our instincts for life itself which is also something very unfamiliar to most western minds.

But there is something very important about developing the many tendrils, like little silk threads, needed to have a strong love relationship with another heart. Cultivating this kind of deep heart-level relationship usually does not happen very effectively if at all in an atmosphere electric with fear. While fear may be a very powerful motivator, fear is also a very unstable and ultimately unreliable foundation upon which to build a relationship.

Fear and love are pretty much total opposites to each other. The Bible clearly says that perfect love casts out all fear. But the opposite is equally true as well. Fear seems to be designed to preempt and undermine the very essence of what makes up love. So now as we begin to see the tension here between these two principles we can also begin to realize the serious problem that emerges when we put off embracing an intimate love relationship with God until there is more fear present in the atmosphere around us.

We really are living in relatively peaceful times though we may not realize or believe it very much. Because of our tendency to dwell on our problems more than our blessings and opportunities we may think that we are already being severely oppressed and persecuted. But I have no doubt whatsoever that very shortly we will look back on these present days and would then give anything to return to the circumstances we are living in now to take advantage of the opportunities that will soon be gone forever. We will realize too late that in our current situation today it is far easier to pursue a deep, solid heart relationship with God than it will ever be when fear is forcing itself into our minds and hearts with an intensity that we have never known before in our whole life.

The book of Daniel prophecies that at the end of this world's history there will be a time of trouble worse than has ever been imagined in the whole history of this world. (Dan. 12:1) We know it is coming because God's Word cannot lie and every prophecy always finds fulfillment. But I also believe that we make a potentially fatal mistake when we try to use fear of this impending time of trouble to be the foundation of our relationship with God. God is not looking for a fear-based relationship with His children but a loving parent/child relationship and ultimately a marriage relationship that is full of love and trust and mutual intimacy at the heart level. This is the only kind of connection with the heart of God that will qualify us to be ready to meet Jesus when He comes again to take His children home with Him to heaven.

Fear is the worst possible motivator that we can rely upon to connect us with God and prepare us for the coming times ahead of us. Yes, God will make use our fears in the initial stages of our movement toward Him because that is all we are paying attention to at first. But God wants to wean us away from the false motivations rooted in fear as soon as possible and replace those unstable motives with a solid foundation of love, trust and saving faith that is best cultivated and nurtured in spending intimate time with Him in an environment free of all the coercion and distractions and stress that fear always produces.

Real love is free of all the counterfeit elements of Satan's kingdom, and this especially means that it is free of fear. We will learn to have a healthy respect for the tremendous awesomeness of God and the dangers of not being synchronized with God when approaching His presence. But this is not the same kind of fear that our flesh uses for motivating us. It is unfortunate that the two emotions even use the same word in English because it causes so much confusion in people's minds. It also has the problem of allowing many people to justify their use of the wrong kind of fear to motivate others to come to God for salvation.

A religion rooted and founded upon fear is like building a house upon the sand. (Matt. 7:26) Fear is very much like sand as a foundation for the life. Remember that sand is really just a lot of little rocks. It is not really different material from foundation rock that we need to build our Christian experience on except for at least one very major difference. The rocks that make up sand are unstable and easily shift position whenever it encounters wind, water and other shifting elements. On the other hand, a single solid bedrock is not vulnerable to those elements of crisis and keeps the house of our experience built upon it stable and secure when a crisis comes.

But we must not wait until we see the storm clouds looming on the horizon before we begin on securing our life on a more sure foundation of faith rooted in love. We need to spend every effort now while times are good in intimate interaction with the goodness and kindness of God's heart so that our own hearts will be filled to overflowing with all the positive attributes of God and there will be no room left for Satan's counterfeits.

I need this counsel and advice just as much as anyone. I want to take seriously my present circumstances to do everything possible to cultivate a solid connection with the heart of God to prepare me for the coming crisis that is coming very quickly. I do not want to be so distracted by thinking about the fears that try to impose themselves on me repeatedly that I fail to engage in real worship, in real passionate devotion encounters with Jesus that will teach me the tough lessons of faith that I need to secure me to the only true Rock. Neither do I want to waste away precious time in relatively meaningless distractions like news, entertainment or anything that will draw me away from keeping in tune with heaven. This is my prayer for myself today and for you as well.

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13 NRSV)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Resisting Truth and Catching Fire

We react with the feelings and intensity that reflects what we really believe about the God we imagine Him to be.

Watch the reaction of a person when confronted with concepts about God that challenges what they already believe. If they become hostile, then what they reveal is that they want their God to be hostile toward those who disagree with Him. If they become intrigued, then there is a good possibility that deep in their heart they have been secretly hoping that God was much better than how He has been misrepresented by religion. These are the ones who are more likely to respond positively to the true gospel.

I am still struggling with my own gut-level false views of God that run counter to what I am learning and teaching about Him. Very often I sense an intensity of irritation whenever people resist thoughts on what God is really like. But then almost immediately I realize that my spirit and my words are incongruent and I have to cry out to God to do much more work at my heart level. I want my heart and spirit to reflect what I am learning with my mind about God, but I cannot force myself to believe these things just because I can logically perceive them and observe them more clearly in the Word. What is being exposed at times is my real gut-level beliefs that are still entrenched in old patterns and familiar routines reflective of the lies that are believed all around me. I want to become completely free of all of these lies but that is a goal that is far more difficult to reach than just accepting new facts. What I really need is to be mentored and exposed and healed.

Most of the lies still embedded in my life remain out of sight for me though I can see the symptoms at times. My lack of real love and compassion for others betrays heart-based lies about God's compassion and love for me. My lack of gratitude betrays some other lies that I still am not even sure what they are. My anger and lack of respect for authority at times betrays deep roots of bitterness which are also based on lies about God that are systemic in my nature.

I am starting to realize that sometimes when I am confronted with lies in others people's reactions to me that those same types of lies are triggered inside myself. Ironically I am trying to counter those lies in other people's minds with my words, and when they resist what I am saying their very resistance awakens sympathetic reactions in me which tends to justify that their lies are actually true and my words are wrong. Because I become resistant and my voice takes on an edge, I am actually giving a mixed message that can be confusing and self-defeating. I am acting as a false witness about God with my spirit while attempting to be a truthful witness with my words. This sounds a little like the description found in Romans 7 and 8.

When I find myself giving an inconsistent witness for God I am immediately assaulted with strong temptations to just give up and accept that maybe these new truths about God are not really factual after all. But I know the source of those kind of thoughts – the same source that implanted all the other lies in my heart that I am struggling to become free of. Instead of giving up my attempts to embrace fully the truth about God's goodness I have to throw myself onto God's mercy and grace and power to transform me more completely into the likeness of His character that He is revealing to me. Instead of caving into fear and feeling condemned by the false pictures of God that I have grown up with, I must steer my thoughts into dwelling on what I have heard from God and what He has shown me from His indisputable Word about how He really feels and acts toward me. I have to exercise the little faith that is growing inside of me so that it will stretch and grow and deepen its hold in my own heart.

Why is it that we are so resistant to believing the truth about God and accepting that He never will torture people with fire in revenge for not trusting in Him? This is the question that keeps coming to my mind at times.

What seems to keep coming up in answer to this question is that we are loathe to give up our current concepts of God that we have embraced for so long in exchange for a God who just might not satisfy our deep cravings for revenge against those who have hurt us deeply. That is such a horrifying thought that it is easier to insist that God will indeed run out of patience and will resort to force and human-like anger to satisfy our warped sense of justice by lashing out at those who have wreaked so much damage on the earth in the lives of others.

We want an angry God when we feel angry.

We want a God who uses force when we are feeling helpless.

We want a God to torture our enemies whenever we are being abused and mistreated.

We desperately want a God to do all the things that we want to do

if we just had access to the power of the Almighty.

Inherently – at least when it applies to others – we like the idea of condemnation, of revenge, of getting even, of settling the score by hurting others at least as deeply as they have hurt us. And anything that challenges those assumptions about what constitutes justice is reprehensible to our way of thinking and our inner picture of God. So we often become very defensive of our own beliefs about God and insist that the problem lies in the ones who are seeing something new in the Scriptures about God that challenges centuries of settled doctrines built on our images of God that are reflective of our own sinful desires. But when it really comes down to it, more often than not we believe in a God who is shaped more in our own image than the other way around. And when we choose to continue to believe in a God who indulges at times in hateful anger against people and even plans to ultimately torture them with fire for displeasing Him, we are actually reinforcing the image of Satan in our own hearts and then projecting those concepts onto our false image of God. Thus Satan succeeds in painting God with the distorted, twisted, depraved character that he himself possesses while causing humanity to sympathize more with Satan and believing that he is not nearly so bad as he has been made out to be.

But the truth is that all of the false notions we have about God are actually reflective of the character of God's archenemy, Satan. Originally we cannot help it that we think this way about God because we were born in a world controlled and saturated with lies about God that influenced our minds and hearts as we grew up. Our concepts of God are inevitably formed by the way adults treated us as young children. God understands this far better than we do and does not condemn us. But the true gospel about God is becoming more and more clear today and when we are faced with the real truth about God's perfect love, His never-failing compassion and goodness, His unconditional forgiveness and the fierce protection that He exercises over the freedom of each person to choose for themselves, then the natural consequences of rejecting this true gospel results in all the tragic “punishments” that we have previously thought were imposed by an angry, offended Deity.

But the truth is that it is sin itself that pays out the wages of death, not God. The real truth is that there are universal principles in place that cannot be ignored or defied without terrible consequences ensuing except as intercepted by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ taking the hit for us so that we can have another chance to synchronize with reality.

Yes, God takes full responsibility for all the bad things that happen as a result of sin that we call punishments. But where we get confused is that the consequences are built into the forces of reality and the principles of creation that God set up originally, not imposed arbitrarily and directly from the hand of an offended Deity. Because God created the universe and set up all the principles and forces that are so powerful and potentially dangerous when ignored, He accepts full responsibility for setting it up that way. But just because a person can suffer enormous pain and even death when ignoring the principle of gravity does not mean that God is personally imposing those consequences as an arbitrary punishment for “disobedience” to that particular law. And this same concept applies to all the principles and laws that govern the universe in every aspect of reality – physical, spiritual, emotional and any other dimension that may exist.

The real gospel brings to light the this very truth about God's consistency and the truth of His unconditional, unchanging attitude toward all of His creation. What we should be afraid of is not an angry God who is desiring revenge on His enemies but a loving, compassionate God who is so pure and undiluted in His passion for our hearts that to come close to Him while harboring lies about Him results in sheer torture of a magnitude far worse than any fire could ever produce in our minds or bodies. It is far easier for us to believe in a God who is more like us and wants revenge at some point in time because we can respond with hatred and resentment and feel justified in our resistance. But to face the fact that God is so unselfish and passionate to save us that He stops short of nothing to accomplish that purpose except to refuse to use force against our will, this is a situation that exposes our own sinful desires that causes our selfish hearts to become exposed and frightened.

God knows that the inherent principle that must be satisfied to experience real love is absolute freedom to reject love if one chooses to do so. Whenever freedom is not present mutual love can never be present in a relationship. When we maintain false notions of God that paint Him in any way as one who violates our freedom or forces our will through intimidation or threats, we are trying to shape Him into our image and try to reject the far more potent reality of the dangerous potency of pure love.

What is now coming to light is that love itself is so powerful and full of energy and inherent “force” that it is lethally dangerous whenever it is resisted by lies about it. That is precisely why God has to veil Himself so much from our view until we are free of all the lethal seeds of sin that would act like land-mines in our heart if we were to see His face fully in our fallen condition. Whenever a person is faced with unconditional love, forgiveness and compassion they are forced to either embrace it and be embraced by it or they face the prospect of inner torture of extreme magnitudes due to their own resistance to that kind of love.

But key to this understanding is the fact that it is not true love's intention to torture the resistant heart but it is just the natural consequence of resistance itself. Just as a resistor in an electrical circuit will overheat and catch fire when faced with more current than it can handle, so it is with a heart that resistants the current of love that powers the whole universe; it will heat up with resentment and anger and fear and will eventually experience the same sort of pain that it imagines might come from an angry, vengeful God that reflects its own characteristics even though that is not what is really going on.

Thus the fires of hell are really of our own making. And the real reason we are so resistant to embracing the truth about God today is because if we are unwilling to let go of our own desires for revenge against others and truly forgive them from our heart, we will begin to experience the fire of hell right now. For to be unwilling to forgive another person while trying to draw close to a God of unconditional forgiveness and love is a recipe for producing hell in the heart. It is a small foretaste of what all will experience who ultimately reject the revelation of God's heart of passionate, unrelenting love for sinners.