Random Blog Clay Feet: January 23, 2009
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Friday, January 23, 2009

Remember the Prisoners - 2

Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:1-3)

I feel compelled to stay in this passage and assimilate much more from this. I have been aware of too much fear, shame and other emotions that have prevented me from fulfilling the instructions in this text. I want my life to come into alignment with the principles embedded in these verses and to be a willing encourager for those suffering isolation, abuse and intense discouragement under the attacks of Satan. Whether they are in prison or out of prison, the ill-treatment suffered by those desiring to be loyal to God and follow His paths cries out for others in the body of Christ to stand up for them in some way and to come alongside them emotionally to provide courage, hope and most of all perspective.

I am also keenly aware that the good-intentioned words of many Christians to those suffering under ill-treatment or imprisonment often have the very opposite effect from what they may intend. This is largely due to the fact that they themselves are operating under false assumptions about what God is doing or how He relates to us in trials. Embedded many times in our comments to or about such mistreated fellow believers are subtle statements of judgment, insinuations that enforce the lies of Satan about God, ideas that these circumstances are somehow punishments from God. Conveying those kinds of sentiments is just an underhanded way of claiming to be more righteous than those who are suffering. This was extremely common among the Jews in Christ's day and was repeatedly rebuked by Him.

The other devastating option is to simply ignore those whose situations make us feel uncomfortable. In the back of our minds we are sometimes afraid of sharing in their sufferings because we are so afraid of the pain, the shame and the social stigma associated with such status. So we mistakenly think that if we just ignore them and go on with our own lives that somehow we might be able to avoid being mistreated ourselves or at least postpone it for as long as possible.

But this only reveals our own immaturity and lack of faith and understanding of God's plan for family and the principles on which His government is based. We are failing to identify with the real body of Christ in sympathy and joy. The real meaning of joy is to share in another's feelings, to identity one's self with them in whatever they are experiencing as a means of both encouragement and also to provide them with more joy strength and capacity to handle their trauma. We are robbing the most vulnerable people in the body of Christ of the comfort of God that He desires to have flow through us to them so that we can share in that comfort as we share in their experiences.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. (Romans 12:15-16)

Conversely, if we chose to publicly identify ourselves with those who are suffering under intense trials, if we chose to accept their social shame by identification with them as brothers and sisters in Christ, then we are proclaiming boldly before a hostile world that we are all in this together as family; when they attack one they are attacking all. In fact, by doing so we are really revealing the heart of the Godhead who has made it clear that when any part of the body is touched with pain and suffering that all heaven feels it fully and identifies with them.

If we refuse to be associated with those in suffering, in effect we are saying that we do not want to be much of a part of the body of Christ. We want the pleasure, the fun, the happiness and the promise of being saved ourselves but we are unwilling to be fully connected with the rest of the body when it may cause us embarrassment, bring us shame or damage our own reputation.

I am realizing even as I write these things that I am very guilty many times of wanting to avoid sharing in others shame or identifying with them in their sufferings. Even though there have been times that I have been powerfully blessed by others who chose to identify with me in my shame and public humiliation, how willing am I to do the same for others when it will inconvenience me or maybe even endanger me? There are all sorts of good-sounding reasons I can come up with why I should just pay attention to my own situation and not get too involved in other's messy circumstances. But is this a true representation of how God intends for His family members to relate to each other? Or is this a revelation of cowardice, unresolved shame of my own, fear of what others will think of me displacing my desire to align myself with what God thinks of me?

These are all very real questions that are confronting me forcefully right now. I am actually glad to see them and to see my own cowardly heart being exposed in this way because I know that each time God exposes selfish garbage in my heart that He also is ready to do something about removing it and replacing it with reflections of His own true character and integrity. Whenever I am challenged by the Holy Spirit to face my own faults it is always for the purpose of cleansing me even deeper and infusing His righteousness deeper into my heart and mind and soul on a more permanent basis.

There is a great deal of important instruction and truth in these three verses that I want incorporated into my character and life. And they all come under the heading right at the beginning – Let love of the brethren continue. If I am unwilling to give someone under persecution, ill-treatment, imprisonment and distress an opportunity to receive encouragement from me by sharing in their feelings or identifying with them in their circumstances somehow, then I am robbing both them and myself the strength that is inherent in this principle called JOY. The very essence of joy is sharing identity with someone and making them feel valuable. Joy literally means “someone who is intensely glad to be with me”. This not only strengthens me in my trials and emotional dilemmas, but it is also something that I am obligated to offer to others as well if I am to be an authentic member of the body of Christ.

The last verse here is quite explicit about that very point. If I refuse to fulfill the things listed in these verses, to offer the strength of joy to those who are strangers and need entertaining, who are prisoners and need hope, encouragement and others to identify with them in their condition – if I refuse to stand up for those who are ill-treated and abused and shamed, then I am not really in the real body of Christ despite all my loud assertions to the contrary.

I sense a need to embrace the conviction of the Holy Spirit, to let go of my pride, my fears, my confused notions about what it means to be a Christian, and to allow God to reform and reshape my perceptions of what it means to be part of the body of Christ. I need to engage Him in a deeper healing encounter for my own fears, to have my own shame replaced with a sense of infinite value as a son of God, to be infused with more boldness in the face of humiliation and to be filled with complete peace in assurance of God's everlasting lovingkindness toward me personally. I need to get more real about what it means to be a child of God, willing to be identified with all His other children and willing to provide the blessing of joy to everyone that He shows me in need of that blessing.

What does it really mean on a practical level to identify with someone in prison or who is being ill-treated? Does it mean that you join them in imprisonment? Does it mean that you join the fight when bullies are attacking someone and try to fight them off on behalf of the attacked? Does it mean simply standing to the side and yelling loudly at those who are causing so much suffering to stop what they are doing? What is the right spirit that I need to relate to these various situations so that I might find the right answers to know how to properly respond? What is the real underlying principle that supports the truth upon which this text is based?

I am not sure I have the answers for that, or if those answers can even by synthesized into understandable language. Sometimes the only way to discover truth is to step into the water first, to obey the commands of God without understanding how it is all going to work out. But isn't this what faith is all about? Obeying without explanations ahead of time as to all the whys and hows?

I am definitely one who likes to understand the reasons for things and the explanations of how things work and fit together. I have found this to be a very important asset in exposing many of the lies about God and about reality that have been uncovered in the past few years. But it can also become a liability whenever I allow it to prevent me from obeying instantly when the Spirit impresses me to do or say something that simply doesn't make sense at the moment. I generally tend to want to ask why first and wait until I have a reasonable explanation of how this is going to fit into all the others truths that I have been learning.

But as any good parent knows, there is a lot of time for explaining, for teaching, for enlightenment and instructions as to why and how life works. This is all a very important part of maturing children to empower them to live as responsible adults and to live and thrive more independent from their parents. Independence is not always a bad thing. Parents are very proud of their children's independence when it is a result of true maturity. It means that their children are growing up to be responsible, to be integrated into the fabric of adult life in close connections with the extended family, to bear their own weight in the larger society and to be a greater asset and blessing to the community.

But parents also realize that there are times when it is extremely important that children also have the willingness and trust to simply obey without question and instantly. It could easily save their very life at times. They need to have the confidence in their parents that will allow them to obey spontaneously, and that this obedience will result in their best good in the long run even though they may be clueless at the moment as to the why of the command.

The very same thing is true in our relationship with God. He is not against explaining to us the reasons and functionality of the principles that govern reality as He created it to work. That is an important part of growing us up in Christ, of maturing us to be responsible, interactive participants in the family of God. In fact, the word for perfect as used in the Bible is often better translated mature and that actually conveys better the intent of many of the passages. This understanding also helps one not become so infected with the virus of perfectionism which creates the blindness of legalism.

But there is also great need for the important character trait of implicit trust in the impressions that we receive from the Holy Spirit and a willingness to obey instantly when God commands us to follow his instructions. Failure to obey from a spirit of trust in His worthiness to be trusted will always result in harm and danger for us and quite possible loss to others around us as well. In today's society that prides itself on independence and logic, this has become a great liability and a danger that we have not paid enough attention to. Because the ideals of implicit obedience has been exploited by religious leaders for their own advantage and used to abuse their followers, we have tended to downplay the importance of immediate obedience in a trusting relationship with our Father in heaven.

Everyone who is a true child of God will be led by the Spirit of God according to Romans 8. If I want to be considered a legitimate child of God under His guidance, then I have to learn the lessons of explicit and instant obedience as well as the deeper principles of truth that under gird the government of God. I want to learn that kind of obedience, to be freed from my spirit of independence and rebellion that is rooted in my fears and lies about how God feels about me. I want to be an obedient and faithful son that can enter into the joy of my Lord.