Monday, February 27, 2012

The Face of Evil

When I was a kid, it was easy to know who the villain was in a TV show or a movie.  It was the ugly guy.  It was the gunslinger with the black hat.  Or the supervillain with the evil laugh and /or the cartoon character with the pointy ears.  It was hardly ever the ravishingly beautiful person.  Or the one who seemed to be so nice.  

But real life isn't like that.  The old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover," is a double-edged sword.  Sometimes the most beautiful people are those who seem to be unapproachable on the outside, yes.  I know a few people like that and am glad that I have taken the time to get to know them.  But the opposite is also true.  Just because someone is attractive or seems nice ... doesn't necessarily make it so.  Appearances can indeed be deceptive.  

I got to thinking one time recently about what the worst kind of evil, what the purest form of evil, looks like.  I know that evil is, in a sense, faceless: it is no respecter of appearances.  I'm not talking about appearances, but about attitude.  After examining several options, I believe that the purest and most dangerous form of evil is that which truly believes itself to be good.  

The most obvious form of that type of evil would be someone like that guy called Adolf that was rattling around Europe in the 1930s and early 1940s.  He was an impressive guy, a consummate leader - and truly believed he was doing the world a favour by committing genocide.  One religious organization even called him "the defender of the faith" for that stance.  Of course another guy named Winston kind of took exception to Adolf's "vision" for a brave new world - and stood up to him the way you'd stand up to any bully.  He got some folks to join him and stop Adolf. Thank God! 

But we don't have to come face to face with a Hitler to be exposed to pure evil.  It is so rampantly wide-spread that we could rub shoulders with it every day and not be aware of it.  

Rarely is it ever up-front about its agenda; sometimes it is not even aware that there IS an agenda (and would be righteously indignant if you even suggested it)!  And the agenda always boils down to the same thing: power.  

Evil is power-hungry.  And if it can achieve its purpose (and thereby gain that power for a longer period of time) by putting on the face of a saint, it will.  Confronted, it may act injured, longsuffering, or bewildered.  Only when it's unequivocally exposed for what it is, will the claws and fangs come out.  

This story is repeated so many times throughout so many generations.  Power-struggles are so common in relationships, whether husband-wife or parent-child or boss-employee or teacher-student.  And it could be the seemingly submissive one who actually wields the most power.  I remember being close friends with one couple early in our marriage where the husband seemed to rule the roost ... to the casual observer ... yet it was the wife who manipulated, wheedled, and controlled what happened in the everyday.  

At first subtly, then more and more as the children came along and grew, this woman - with a sweet smile, happy-go-lucky outlook, and syrupy voice - undermined her husband's reputation with his children, drove a wedge between him and them, and took their side in parental decisions against him and in front of the children ... every time.  The children grew up disrespecting him, openly criticizing him, and rebelling against him.  And all the while, she decided what happened, how it happened, who went where and what they did.  Finally when the husband died early - of a stress-related illness (who knew?) - the whole family did a flip-flop and talked about him as if he was some sort of saint - which he would have been the first to admit he wasn't.  

Not long after, the wife looked around for someone else to control (oops, HELP) - and found a new target in the husband's mother.  And everyone looking on from the outside thought that she was such a brave soul for facing life without her husband, for carrying on, and for being so nice to her mother-in-law and carrying on her husband's memory.  But in essence, she had lived her life without her husband from the get-go.  His feelings, his opinion, his input was never listened to or asked for - and when he gave it anyway, he was belittled in front of his children.  Now that he is gone, it has made little difference in her life except to remove the little bit of resistance he provided. She is actively feathering her nest and taking advantage of her mother-in-law, using her visits and her children as weapons to get what she wants: the family heirlooms, that is.  And most people still think she is so sweet.  The saddest part of it is ... so does she. 

It's so very tragic.  Yet this is only one example of so very many similar situations in so many families world-wide.  This is where pure evil thrives - not so much in despots and political parties and institutions like the film industry (or whatever is the most recent target of the moral majority) ... but in homes, churches, schools and workplaces all around the world.  

It makes me all the more determined to examine my own motivations - to pray and ask God to reveal the secret places in me where I hide from my own agendas, where I have myself convinced that I'm doing the right thing, where I still try to gain the upper hand at the expense of my husband's and/or my children's self-esteem or their freedom to choose.  I remember living that kind of life for decades, and thinking it perfectly normal and "right."  What it really was, was the natural result of the original curse: "Your desire will be to rule over your husband...." (Genesis 3).  And I had fallen for that hard-wired obsession to rule it all: hook, line, and sinker.  It took a great deal of Life beating me down into submission, for me to understand just what I was doing and to ask for help in letting go.  It's only by the Grace of God that I can even see an inkling of that compulsion in myself.  And it's only by His Grace that I can be free of it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Leaving and Cleaving

One thing I've heard a fair bit about lately - from various (married) sources - is the idea that one's "home" is where one grew up or where one's parents live.  

While I almost envy folks who have a good relationship with their parents, I think I would draw the line at the thought of having one's homing signal beeping out from smack dab in a parental home.  I'm talking mostly about the loyalty factor but also about the idea that it's okay to live with "Mum and Dad" after starting a conjugal relationship with someone else.

I understand that for some, this is the only solution financially.  But having lived with a parent after marriage (either in the parent's home or having the parent live in mine) I can say from experience that it can be (and very often IS) problematic to share control over a household in that manner.  Nobody knows who is in charge or has the final say, especially if there is (gifted or loaned) money involved.  Styles of household management differ.  Methods of parenting are very often a topic of friction.  And then there's the uncomfortable dynamic of parents taking the side of one or the other of the adult children who are living under the same roof, during an argument.  Not to mention the temptation some parents have to criticize everything the daughter in law or the son in law does and yet not lift a finger to help.  Or to do everything for the child and in so doing, "take over" and not let their child be independent.  But I shan't go there today.  

The model of multi-generational households has been around for a long time. The Jews in Jesus' day, for example, helped their children get a good start in their marriage by the son being allowed to build on to his parents' home or build a house on his parents' property, and set up housekeeping.  But it was never meant to be reason for one generation to meddle in the affairs of the other.  

The natural order of things is for the children to grow up, move out, and start their own family unit.  Jesus quoted Genesis 1 (ahem, that was BEFORE the Fall of mankind!) when He said that the original intent was for a man to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife.  The same could be said of the woman - that she would leave her father and mother and cleave to her husband.  That means that "home" is now with each other. It is NOT in the parental house. It's in the wedding vows by the way... "...forsaking all others..." could just as easily apply to the birth family as to previous boyfriends/girlfriends.  



Source:  (from Google Images)
http://triadmomsonmain.com/_blog/My_Blog/post/
Is_Your_Mother-In-Law_a_Marie_Barone/
 Even if not living with "Mum and Dad," the parent-child (or the in-law) relationship can wreak havoc - as can the idea that the person's locus of identity is not in the nuclear family (i.e., with the spouse and children) but with the birth family.  

Many people DO have good relationships with their parents and in-laws, and their siblings and their spouses for that matter. Congratulations if you are one of them!! But I've seen it happen:  the fastest way to wreck an intimate spousal relationship is to have too close of a relationship with the parents.  The kind where - for emotional support - one turns to the parent rather than the spouse, the kind that complains about the spouse to the parent,  ... a friend of mine calls this "up your nose" relationship "spousing" (an interesting and descriptive term which I've found useful.) This can be done with parents, friends, relatives, children, even co-workers ... and it is always unhealthy. I've even known people to practice "spousing" at church.  In fact, one husband yelled - as he threw a Bible across the room in a fit of temper - "Why don't you just take a bed and LIVE up there?"

How long has it been, I wonder, since I've gone to my husband FIRST and asked HIS opinion on something I was thinking about?  Since I've taken HIS side in a discussion?  Since I've chosen time with HIM over time with another family member - or time with 'the girls'?  Since I've gone where HE wanted to go?  Since I've told him that my home is with HIM and not somewhere else?  Since I've expressed to him how very much I love HIM? 

It's well worth thinking about.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Safe Place to Land

"I wish I could have the love for God that you do," someone said to me once.  I shook my head.  There was only one response I could give.  "He rescued me.  He took me as I was and brought me up out of a really scary place, saved me from myself.  He literally saved my life."  

The last couple of days I've been thinking a lot about the grace of God.  Totally unmerited, freely lavished, crazy-love Grace.  

When a building is burning, and the fire-ladders can't reach to the floor where the fire is, the fire-fighters will set up a safety net and tell people to jump.  If people are too scared to jump, they succumb to the smoke and they die.  Taking that jump, that leap of desperation, is the choice they make to trust that the net will keep them from perishing when they land.  

Source (via Google Images):
http://macriacao.blogspot.com/2010/05/safety-net.html
It's a safe place.  Scary to take the jump, to trust yourself to a thin layer of nylon, yes.  But it's the only way. All other exits are fiery passages of certain death.  There's only one way out alive: jumping for the net.

And - that's what faith is.  It isn't just believing that the net of God's grace will hold - it's actually jumping, even if we're scared. And that kind of faith is repeated over and over again in our relationship with God.  Free-falling onto His power, His love, His forgiveness, over and over and over.  

Not that we try to fail. (Although the more we try by ourselves, the more sure we are to fail... but I've already talked about that.) But the more we are in Him ... the more we realize that every step, every decision is a free-fall into His safety net of tenderness, of compassion, of mercy.  And when we mess up ... and we WILL mess up ... the greatest safety net of all is there: His love.  Mike Warnke used to say it something like this way: I could explain it theologically, exigetically, philosophically, using all kinds of big words like that.  But it still all boils down to one thing, the most profound message the world has ever known:
     Jesus loves me, this I know
     For the Bible tells me so.
     Little ones to Him belong;
     They are weak but He is strong.
     Yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me,
     Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.  

Healing, restoration, acceptance, forgiveness - it's all there.  

Just jump.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Life Support

Say the words "life support" and folks think immediately of someone who is being kept alive on a machine.  The person is totally dependent upon someone (or something) else to keep him or her alive.  Few - if any - of us would want to be in such a position. 

But read the teachings of Jesus or of Paul and you quickly come to one conclusion.  The "abundant life" is not humanly possible.  In fact, it springs from the abundance that only God can give, and keeps giving as we rely totally on Him.  

When I think of this dynamic, sometimes I think of baby robins, which I believe to be the ultimate picture of utter dependence on God.  Totally helpless to fend for themselves, all baby robins know to do is to ask mom or dad for the basic stuff of life.  They do this loudly and persistently.  They cannot fly, they cannot feed themselves, they can't even see at first.  They are only "activated" in their asking for help, by the presence of the parent-provider.  

Source (through Google Images):
http://badanimalpuns.com/2009/05/06/
birds-eye-view-of-history/
It's one of the pictures that comes to mind when I read the words of God through the pen of an unknown psalmist, "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it."  (Ps. 81:10)  Or the words of Jesus, "Without Me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5)  I'm also reminded of part of a familiar passage I like to listen to, from what some call "The Big Book." It goes like this: "Without help it is too much for us.  But there is One who has all power. That One is God: may you find Him now. Half-measures availed us nothing.  We stood at the turning point.  We asked His protection and care with complete abandon."  

Living moment-by-moment in total dependence on God is the only way to keep from succumbing to the delusion that we can make life work on our own terms.  And the more we realize that we are just like those baby robins, the more we will get out of our own way and rely totally on Him. 

Now that's Life support.

Pillars and Pariahs

It's been said that two wrongs don't make a right.  I fully agree.  But I also think that two rights don't necessarily make a right either.  In fact, they may make a worse wrong than the two wrongs ever did.  For an example of this idea on a national level (using the US as an example), just read the following link at the Huffington Post:
A Parable: Is it Always Right to Be Right?


The church is riddled with people who firmly believe they are right, no matter what side of an issue they are on.  Right about birth control. Right about abortion. Right about same-sex relationships. Right about this doctrine or that doctrine (don't get me started). Right about what constitutes holiness. Right about level of church involvement / ministry.  Right even about global issues like war, environmental stewardship, or social justice.  Pick a topic and you'll find at least three opinions on it ... and each proponent will say that his or her opinion on that topic is the right one.  

Source (via Google Images):
http://www.inmagine.com/
kcd00131/kcd00131083-photo
The problem with being right - is that everyone else's opinion is (by definition) wrong.  And by being seen as wrong, or not-right, these ones are automatically judged, shunned, left out in the cold.  

I'm not saying that there aren't absolute truths.  I'm saying that people can major on minors so easily.  People can become self-righteous Pharisees without realizing it.  I was ... for decades.  I judged those who didn't agree with my particular brand of religious behavior (I won't call it Christianity because I used to call it that - and it so wasn't).  

The "I'm right and you're wrong" mentality results in two classes of people: pillars and pariahs.  Heroes and villains.  I know people who consider themselves to be pillars of their church - who treat others who don't share their narrow viewpoint like pariahs.  Pillars  consider it perfectly right and proper (even their God-given right) to call the ones they've deemed as pariahs down to the lowest.  Why?  because of (their interpretation of) Paul's reference to Christians being seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6) - their idea is that since the only place to sit is in the throne with Him, they are - even now - sitting in the seat of judgment and therefore have the right to judge others.  How twisted is that??  

God is delivering me from the pillar-of-the-church mindset.  He's putting me in situations where I must accept others for who they are and what they believe, even if it differs from me or my beliefs.  You see, I felt threatened by anyone who disagreed with my beliefs. I felt attacked if they didn't share them.  And God is bringing me to the place where I can accept not only myself for who I am, but also them for who they are.  I am learning that they have a right to be who they are, to believe as they do, and that it's not my business or my job to make them look like perfect little replicas of me.  (Yikes - that would be scary!!)  My responsibility is to look after my own side of the street, to keep my eyes on my own relationship with God and not to interfere with theirs, to accept all people - no matter if they're spotted or striped, purple or green, liturgical or fundamentalist, whatever.  

I've been a pillar.  I've been a pariah.  Having experienced both, I can say that neither is a good place to be.  Once I experienced what it was like to be accepted for who I am, it freed me to grant others the same courtesy.  Instead of a pillar or a pariah, I became a real person.  And I started seeing others as real people too.

I much prefer being a person. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

A + B = C

You can't go very far in Christian circles before you run into it.  Sermons are rife with it, so are Christian books of every type and description. Five things you need to know about the Bible.  Seven attributes of a Spirit-filled life.  Four guarantees to answered prayer.  While all these might be wonderful and good in their proper context, they do run the risk of giving people the idea that the Christian life is something that we can master, and they use scripture to back up their claims!  Without coming right out and saying it (at least, most of them don't), they claim to have life all figured out - to have God all figured out.  And they imply that those who don't follow their pattern for prosperity or success (or whatever the case may be) are sadly missing out on "all God has for them."

Formula-based living. 
The "A plus B equals C" mentality.  

Let's take the basic example of prayer.  I want God to do something for me.  It's really important to me.  So I pray.  My prayer is structured like this at its core (although I "pretty it up" to hide it from myself) :

(A) I need this; You promised this; how can this not be Your will? it's what I would do! 
(B) I've done everything I'm supposed to do for You.  
(C) You are therefore obligated to give this to (do this for) me.  

We do this in pretty much every area.  We think that if we do this, and say that, then we can expect a certain result.  Expecting is not wrong.  Praying is not wrong. Doing things for God is not wrong. What concerns me is attitude.  There is an mind-set ... in some cases, perhaps in a lot more cases than we might think ... of entitlement - an attitude that frightens me.  

It goes right back to Cain.  Remember him?  He knew that God required sacrifice; his dad had told him what happened the day they were exiled from Eden.  But Cain's perception of the requirement ... was that he worked hard for the quality of the vegetables, grain, and fruit that he cultivated.  God should be pleased with the labor - the sacrifice he had made with the sweat of his brow - and that his offering should be acceptable.  We know that it wasn't; we know that God accepted his brother Abel's sacrifice instead. Cain's story teaches us that human effort is not what God is looking for; He's looking for trust - for obedience, yes, but in the context of total reliance on Him.

Source (via Google Images):
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/
2007/12/071213194723.htm
And yet we miss that "trust thing."  We insist that God can be impressed with our own efforts, deluded into thinking that we can influence the decisions of the Almighty, or that we can get along without His help.  We give lip service to trusting Him but we go on about our lives as though our living the life He wants is up to us.  

And - eventually - we fail miserably and end up (whether we admit it to ourselves or not) screaming at God as if it is His fault.  Or ... which is too often the case ... thinking that we haven't been fervent enough, dedicated enough, self-sacrificing enough, good enough for God to take notice - and that leads to even greater intensity of human effort, the very thing that will lead to even greater failure.  

The apostle Paul severely warned against formula-based living. He wrote about it to the Galatians; it's the whole point of his letter to them!  They'd succumbed to the insidious "Jesus AND" doctrine. That is - the teaching that grace isn't enough, that human effort is required to complete salvation or to receive reward. Paul speaks strong words to these people, "You foolish Galatians!  who has bewitched you....?  Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?"  (3:1-3, NASB)  

James, in his book, speaks of works showing faith, that faith without works is dead.  This is true - yet the works of which he speaks are those produced by the life of God within, not human effort.  Scripture must interpret itself in whole, and no scripture can be of private interpretation.  When Paul warns against formula-based living, or of imposing a bunch of rules and regulations onto a believer, he's not saying, "Let's not have rules."  He's saying, "The life that Jesus died to give you can be made ineffective by adding the human component."  

For an example, we need look no further than those who say they are Christians but who act as though there are different classes of Christians: those who are following the 'rules' (be that tithing, giving to missions, going on missions trips, attending every church function, holding an office in some sort of ministry, and the list goes on, and on) and those who aren't.  Not that there is anything inherently wrong with those things.  I'm saying that when they are done in our own strength, perhaps to gain some sort of spiritual bank account with God that we can spend to get what we want, then they have become the focus ... and God has become secondary: a means to an end.  Gratitude is replaced by greed.  Of course we don't recognize it as such.  We more often see it as working toward ensuring our eternal reward.  Just like Cain.

We forget that we are dealing with the God of the universe here.  The agent of Creation.  The great "I am."  It was HIS initiative that made it possible for us to even have a relationship with Him.  It was HIS sacrifice that made a way for us to approach Him. Even the faith we placed in Him to receive that great gift is not our own - He gave it to us (Eph. 2: 8,9). It is HIS Spirit that he put inside of us when we activated that faith-gift.   And in depending solely on our own strength, what we are doing - in essence - is rejecting that Spirit and saying, "No, I got this covered, God. I'm in charge here. I'll pull Your chain when I need You.  And oh, by the way, aren't You impressed with how well I'm doing?"  

Paul even went as far as to say to the Galatians the exact opposite of what is taught or thought about in Christian circles these days.  "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace."  (5:4, NASB)  

Wow!  We have come to believe that a person who has fallen into some kind of sin like being unfaithful to their spouse or stealing from the church or whatever - as qualifying for that designation of having "fallen from grace."  Yet Paul says that it's not that at all! it's rather a focus on going back and keeping all the rules, of superimposing religion on top of relationship! 

Perhaps it's time to check our math.  Maybe it isn't as simple as A plus B equals C.  Maybe God's a bit bigger than that.  Maybe His ways are greater than our ways. Maybe we haven't got Him all figured out.  Maybe His sense of goodness, justice, and grace is far bigger than we can imagine.  Maybe it really is as simple as Jesus plus zero.  Maybe it's ALL Him and we get to go along for the ride.  Maybe we just need to let go and - with a heart full of gratitude for His grace and His empowering Spirit - let Him be who He has been all along ... and has so longed for us to embrace.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

To Be Known

A couple of posts ago I made passing reference to this topic of 'being known' by God.  

Paul talks about this specifically more than anyone else does in scripture. It's not one of his major themes, but it does pop up in his writings more, probably because he was well-versed in the Old Testament scriptures (more about those later).  

To introduce this idea, perhaps I'd better turn to one of the more beloved passages in Scripture: that of the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, written by the apostle Paul.  Verse 12 says (about when he finally gets to Heaven) "... then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known."  

But doesn't God know everything and everyone?  After all, Jesus said that the hairs of our head are numbered, David talked about God knowing everything about us.  However, given the context, I believe that Paul is talking about a different kind of knowledge.  He talks about being "fully known."  This is a reference to the ancient Hebrew term "yada" which means to know someone the way a man "knows" his wife - that is, in an intimate way.  Ooh.  That puts a WHOLE new spin on it!  

Which explains the teaching of Jesus about judgement day, when people start listing all the wonderful things they've done, and the Judge says, "Depart from Me ... I never knew you."  

OUCH.  I guess that's kind of important, then.  So ... what does it mean to be "known by" God?

Source (via Google Images):
http://www.warholstars.org/chron/1963.html
In 1 Cor. 8:3, Paul says, "If anyone loves God, he is known by Him." (By the way, that "loves" is the Greek agapĂ© - often referred to God's love - which means it's humanly impossible!  It's so like Him to proactively give us the kind of love we need, with which to love Him back!!  It speaks of John's words, "We love Him because He first loved us.")  This also rings true with the secondary meaning of the term "to know" - which is "to progressively become familiar with" - that is, as in a very close friendship (which, if it works right, is the foundation out of which springs every good intimate relationship - but I digress).

In Galatians 4:9, Paul says again, "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?" (I may come back to the book of Galatians - one of my faves - in another post.)

So from the above verses, we've seen that being known by God is far more than just being known the way a creator knows his creation - it involves an intimate personal relationship which is progressive. It produces a desire to know God in that same way (Paul speaking here again): "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him..." (Philippians 3: 8-10a)   

Wow!!  That's passion!  and it originates with Christ's love and passion for us.  

The intercourse imagery behind the verb "to know" brings me right back to a couple of Old Testament references.  One is the Song of Solomon - which if you would like to read as an allegory between Jesus and us, do so in a version that shows who is speaking - such as the Message. (By the way, the intensity of the language is enough to make some of us blush!)  The other is the reference in Genesis 3, after the fall of man, where (in the King James Version) it says, "And Adam knew his wife..." (This is the Hebrew word 'yada' which I mentioned before.)   It doesn't take much imagination to picture that. This kind of "to know" is repeated again and again in the Old Testament - Moses and the prophets are full of sexual references!  Anyway, I was thinking primarily of these two passages.  And there are some parallels that I would like to draw before I close this post, keys to allowing God to know us.  Individually.  Completely.

1.  We have to get close.  God took the initiative on this one - but we can always say no - and when we say No, there is no know.

2.  We have to spend time at it.  This is not a one-time thing and we've done our duty.  It's meant to be enjoyed, something to look forward to.

3.  We have to open ourself.  Spiritual penetration is not possible until we are open to it.  Um... I think I'll leave it at that.

4.  We have to talk.  (Sorry, guys.)  Spiritual intimacy is the context for conversation about what matters. It builds trust, deepens the bond.

5.  We have to linger.  Not just the act itself, but also the little things shared throughout the day can enhance spiritual union. Solomon talked about his bride "ravishing" him with just one glance.  Whew!  

The topic has been a hot one!!  Here's hoping the spiritual fireworks get ignited...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Black Holes

I was doing a little thinking this afternoon about the purpose of knowledge. Odd topic.  Someone made an offhanded comment to me which started me thinking about it; the comment itself doesn't really matter - but the scripture that came to my mind was the one in II Timothy 3 which describes those people who will be around in the last days (and most of us would agree that we are living in those) - people who will be lovers of money, malicious gossips, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, and a whole host of other nasty things.  But what popped out at me from that passage today was that they would creep into widows' houses (preying on loneliness and capitalizing on them having too much time to think, perhaps), "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth..." (vs 7, NASB)

I got this image in my mind of black holes.  A singularity (or black hole) is said to form when the gravity of a star becomes so great that it starts to "suck" in other stars and other matter - space dust, nebulae - toward it.  Nothing can escape from it, not even light.  It is constantly taking things in.  Yet it only takes; it never gives.  

Source (via Google Images):
http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2007/07/
black-holes-hel.html
I know a few people who are somewhat like that.  Appearing to be spiritual, they gather opinions from others without forming any of their own, and they run from commentary to concordance to Bible study book, this to that to the other Bible teacher, attend conference after spiritual retreat after convention - all in a quest to know more.  Yet they are spending their lives doing all of that instead of actually living the life they're learning about, gaining vicarious pleasure out of others' revelations.  They use people as tools to gather information and don't form relationships with them; they major on minor points as if they were all-important, developing them into elaborately thought-out belief systems - about things that don't really matter.  I believe the common expression is trying to figure out "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin!" 

Those who are practical, relatively healthy believers consider this type of esoteric conversation to be too "cosmic" for their tastes.  Meanwhile, lonely, disenfranchised people are attracted to it because after all, the black hole seems interested in their point of view, validates their own notions of what life is about, draining what light they have out of them. Not until they get too close and are unable to escape, and get swallowed up, used up and discarded, do they realize the interest was only to satisfy some sort of unquenchable desire to learn more.  

Paul likens these 'singularities' to the Egyptian priests Jannes and Jambres, who mimicked the miracles that Moses performed before Pharaoh (turning rods into snakes and water the color of blood). People whose only reason for seeking spiritual things is so that they can say they have discovered this or that secret and in some way profit from it - even if only to stroke their egos.  People who appear to be godly - but who have no idea or interest (except in an intellectual way) in how to live their daily lives in the Spirit.  In essence, they are denying His power (vs 5a).  Paul has one piece of advice in how to deal with these individuals.  He doesn't say to stick around and try to reason with them. He considers them dangerous. His advice takes the form of a one-word thought. Run. "Avoid them!" (vs 5b)

Paul goes on to instruct Timothy to continue in what he has already been taught, to keep the Main Thing as the main thing - and to delve into the Scriptures - for they are what can teach, reprove, correct, and instruct in how to live rightly, in order to be mature and equipped for every good work.  (vss 14-16).  

I need to pay more attention to what God has to say than what people do, especially when what people say doesn't line up with what God says, or misrepresents Him.  God can use people, and He has used them in my life - I am so very grateful for that.  But when people begin to be my source, instead of what God has to say, then I run the risk of either being sucked into a black hole ... or becoming one.

Belittled

I attended a church service this morning where God was present. I know He's present everywhere, yes.  But in that service, His presence was tangible.  Nobody could deny that His touch was on it and on those who were ministering, working through them to carry the message of His love, His grace, His power to those in attendance and beyond.  

The participants truly were worshiping, connecting with God, and operated in unity and power in a way that is impossible without the unifying and powerful presence of God.  

And guess what else!!  Ninety percent of those who ministered ... were children.  

Remember those cutesy Christmas pageants with carefully rehearsed recitations and prizes given for perfect attendance and so forth?  This was nothing like that.  These kids were LEADING in worship.  They were setting the example.  They were showing the Way.  

Source (via Google Images of course):
http://elanajohnson.blogspot.com/2011_01_01_archive.html

Somewhere along the way we got the idea that because children are small and inexperienced with the hard knocks of life, that they are incapable of experiencing God.  I've heard people talk about them as having "little feelings" or as they get older, a "little job."  Even the idea that we have to clap for these kids when they do something in church (like for example, sing a solo or recite a scripture) seems based on that "Aww, isn't that cute" mentality.  

But today was different.  Today I got a glimpse of the potential, the possibilities.  I really got to see how backward we've gotten it for such a long time. After all, Jesus said we adults had to become like little children, yet for decades they've been populating the back seats of our assemblies, bored out of their skulls, or relegated to kids' programs that more resemble glorified babysitting than any kind of training for ministry.  It's almost as though they've been on the outside looking in, not "getting" what we were there for, and now ... these kids are excited, passionate, dedicated, and devoted to God.  Watching them operate in the Spirit was absolutely phenomenal. I was in tears half the time because I sensed the same Presence coming through their ministry as I have sensed in other gatherings when God has shown up. 

Dismissing someone, not taking someone seriously because he or she is not talented enough, beautiful enough, old enough, rich enough, or anything enough - belittles not only the person but the God we say we worship.  I've had the privilege of being in ministry right alongside some of these kids.  I Love It.  They have such a spirit of acceptance and willingness to them.  They've taught me more than they'll ever know.  God has mightily used them - and continues to do so - to break past those pre-conceived barriers I and so many other Christian adults have put up.  

The children are stepping up to the plate while some of us have never even gotten to the batting cage.  Rather than feel guilty or jealous, it just spurs me on, inspires me to press in deeper with God and know Him.  And to let Him know me - but that is another post for another time.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Outside In - Inside Out

As a child I always got the terms "outside in" and "inside out" mixed up.  I thought they meant two different things but in reality (something I discovered as I got older) they didn't.  At least, not when it comes to folding clothes.  

But there is a way in which these are opposites.  And that is in the realm of change or healing.  When that happens from the outside in, it's only surface.  It's putting on a mask, a new behavior, turning over a new leaf, trying a new diet, focusing on externals.  And although it may produce the change we are aiming for, the satisfaction from that healing or that change won't last long. 

But when it happens from the inside out - that's different.  Inside healing is crucial for us to be able to have sustained / permanent change.  Conversely, if the inside isn't healed or changed, the poison that is in there will pollute everything we say and do even if the initial result is positive.  

Jesus talked about that.  "Don't you know," He said, "that whatever goes into a person passes through the stomach and is eventually expelled?  But from within, out of the heart, proceed evil thoughts, ... murders ... deceit ... envy ... slander ... foolishness.  All these things come from within, and defile the person." (Mark 7:18-21) 

By contrast, Paul talked about the process of change from the inside out.  "...where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into that same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Cor. 3:17, 18)

And that's the ticket isn't it?  we all know it as believers, don't we?  we can't live this life on our own, and we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to empower us to live from the inside out?  yet - there is a vast difference between knowing what the Bible teaches on something (or in this case, Someone) and actually experiencing it (or more precisely, Him.) Deep down, perhaps we just give verbal assent to that idea but we really believe we've got it covered.  We'll go to God when we come up against something we can't handle but really - we pretty much got it licked.  Hmm.

I'm reading a book at the moment called The Forgotten God - it's by well-known pastor and author Francis Chan.  He talks in one spot in his book about imagining you have grown up on a desert island with nothing but the Bible to read.  Then suddenly you are rescued and taken to the civilized world and introduced to a typical North American church for the first time.  Wouldn't you be absolutely shocked that it is unlike anything you've read about? and not in a good way?  He explains that in the last few decades we have become more focused on attendance than on the movement of the Spirit - moving to what he calls an "entertainment model" of the church in the 1980s and 1990s, which (as do all external measures) worked for a while to get rid of people's boredom and temporarily make people interested in attending church again.  I'm not knocking the wonderful ministries that have sprung up or the contemporary Christian artists that have reached so many with their down-to-earth, "me and You" lyrics.  

But over time, we started focusing on the talents, not the Source, the gifts and not the Giver.  It became the accepted thing to focus more on the musicality or the speaking ability of the people in ministry and less on the presence of God.  Slowly, this mind-set turned church members into self-centered consumers, not into Christ-centered servants.  

Wonder why so many teens are leaving the church? I don't. They're SMART!! They can see through hypocrisy and mediocrity!  Fact is, at the risk of being branded a heretic, I would prefer that they NOT come to church at all, if all they're getting there is some sort of religious (outside-in) pablum, a de facto vaccine against the real deal: walking (inside-out) by the Spirit.  But I digress ... only slightly.  

The degree to which each of us is controlled by the Holy Spirit in the everyday, is the degree to which our churches will be. We've gotten it backward.  The church isn't where it's going to happen.  Religion isn't going to cut it.  We need individual relationship with God.  Performance isn't where it's at.  Personal passion for God is.  And we can't just conjure that up!!  We can't "work up" the Holy Spirit no matter where we are (alone or together), we can't play on people's emotions or give a good "performance" and expect Him to come waltzing in as if on command.  It doesn't work like that.  Relationship - passion - comes from a personal encounter with the living God: coming face to face with our own spiritual bankruptcy and relying totally on Him to make us alive inside.  Today.  Not in the historical sense (like, He touched me fifteen - or fifty - years ago) but right now.  This morning.  Five minutes ago.  Five seconds ago.  

These thoughts challenge me.  They inspire me to want to press in, to seek God's transforming presence in my life.  To let go of my own obsession with controlling everything in my life, and in the lives of those I care about.  To admit that I just can't do this living by faith thing.  To ask Him to do it in and through me because I've tried... I've tried all my life and I've learned that my best efforts are worthless.  I've had occasions where the Spirit takes over, and I've allowed Him to lead me.  When I do, the results are astounding to me - but then I grab the wheel again ... and life becomes "safe" again.  

I don't want just to let Him drive once in a while.  I want to sign over my ownership card to Him.  The question is - will I?

I Will Remember

I love to read the Psalms, especially those penned by David.  He - above all authors in the Book - has to be among the top three in my "favorites" list... not because his poetry is amazing (which it is) but because he is honest about how he feels, with no apologies.  

Most of his songs start off with some sort of lament - circumstances are pressing in and he feels trapped by them.  Betrayal from a one-time friend has pierced his heart.  He is overwhelmed by his own sinfulness.  He is afraid for his life.  He is depressed, discouraged, in despair.  Whatever the case, he expresses it fully and makes those feelings known to God.  

Not that God doesn't already know these things.  But he needs to express them and in doing so, fully know the state of his own heart.  It is tossed and driven, buffeted, weary of the storm.  


This painting is for sale by artist Ivan Fraser  ... I found the image at:
http://www.paintingsilove.com/artist/ivanfraser
found through Google Images...

And then he comes to a turning point - once his emotion has been fully expressed to its Creator - and it usually starts with "...but I will remember ..."  David lists all the times God has been faithful to him - or even to others - in the past.  He draws strength from those stories, speaks to his inner storm, and turns himself intentionally toward the guidance of the lighthouse - God's presence with him through it all.  He allows faith to take the helm in the midst of the fears that surround him and overwhelm him.  

He speaks truth and peace to his inner turmoil.  He reminds himself - again and again - that God is there. 

David was called "a man after God's own heart."  I believe that this was because he was honest above all things.  Even the best of us can be self-deluded (as was David for about a year of his life) but this man never tried to sugar-coat anything.  He felt passionately whatever it was that he felt.  He was able to weep openly. To worship with all his might. To love completely.  To fully experience the wrath and indignation of injustice.  To admit the depth of his own suffering.  And through it all he kept close to his heart the lessons learned in the fields with his sheep - in the caves with his men - and in the depths of his grief.  

David's example has inspired me more times than I can count.  I've often drawn upon his life, his self-talk, his recorded prayers in my own puny struggles to let go of trying to control my own life and the lives of others - and to let God do it.  David wrote, "You chart the path ahead of me, and tell me where to stop and rest.  Every moment You know where I am."  (Ps. 139:3, NLT)  So many times that prayer (in its entirety) has helped me remember that it's okay to catch my breath, and that God has already seen what's ahead and is with me.  Every moment.  There's no escaping Him - not that I'd even want to - and He is in charge of my life.  

I'm so very glad.  I've been in charge of it before - and it didn't turn out well. I will remember that.  I will also remember that He has promised never to leave, never to forsake me ... And I will remember to say thank You.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our Cross to Bear

I heard it a lot when I was growing up.  Usually it was said by someone who was referring to parenting us kids.  "Oh, it's my cross to bear, I guess."  I heard it so much it made me sick at heart, wounded in spirit.  It was so NOT that person's cross to bear - the meaning of that term completely escaped not only that person, but every person I ever heard use that kind of statement when I was a child.  Of course, at the time, that's the only context in which I heard it, so I didn't know any different.  

Now I do.  A "cross to bear" does NOT mean some sort of situation that is inescapable, seen as a punishment or (at best) a test from God.  That would be what is known as a "trial" and as I've said before, those happen to everyone, Christian or not - and it's our response to them which can repel or attract another person from or to the God we serve. Certainly the statement (and tone) I heard growing up was NOT one which would attract someone to God. The only ones who were attracted to it were those who also considered their children to be a punishment from God for having (worse yet, enjoying) sex.  Pardon my bluntness.  


But it had nothing to do with having a cross to bear.

A cross to bear - in Jesus' day - meant certain death.  It wasn't (as is the trend today) some ornate decoration hung around the person's neck on a 14K gold pendant.  It was the harbinger of doom.  It was the guarantee of execution. It was bloody, gory, and repulsive.  Nobody wanted to think about the cross.  Yet - Jesus told His followers, "Unless a man (He's talking in the generic sense here) deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Me, he can't be my disciple." Those who heard that were affronted - they were in this for the glory of the coming kingdom when Messiah would overthrow the Romans and set up His kingdom on earth.  And Jesus was saying they'd have to pick up a cross?  the very symbol of the ultimate victory of Rome?  

Of course He didn't mean that they (or we) should all be crucified literally.  They were on a hillside, and Jesus wasn't carrying a cross at the time.  Jesus spoke much of the time in metaphor. He was talking about a heart-attitude - as He usually did.  The attitude He spoke of was one that was:

1.  Single-minded.  Following Jesus takes commitment to going wherever He leads, no matter what.  Even if He leads to places that can be uncomfortable. Or even dangerous. Here I'm not talking about suffering for suffering's sake.  I'm saying that the choices we make as Christians may put us in conflict with the world system, and this might turn out to cost us something - either financially, socially, or - in some cases - physically.  Some of Jesus' followers actually WERE crucified after He went back to heaven.  Some were martyred in other ways, the ways limited only by human imagination, all throughout history.  Some even today have lost jobs, families, freedom, even their lives for the sake of spreading the message of the gospel (the good news.)

2.  Self-sacrificing.  Again, here I'm not talking about making a show of giving up this or that thing in our lives and "playing the martyr" to get attention or some sort of reward.  I'm talking about giving up our own selfishness (this only made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit) and choosing what He would have us to do.  Some people call this "doing the next right thing."  It means admitting when we are wrong, and taking steps to make amends where necessary.  It means being honest with ourselves, with God, and with others.  It means "putting to death the deeds of the flesh."  All that means is that we give God the final say over our desires, our motives, our life-focus. As we do that through His empowering presence inside of us, not by enforcing a lot of outward rules and regulations but allowing Him to guide us, we will find that self-seeking will slip away and we will be more interested in serving rather than in instant gratification.   

3. Sustained.  The more we allow God to lead us and to move in our lives, the more we will realize that we cannot do anything... ANYTHING ... in our own strength.  We will come to understand that it is God's strength alone that allows us to continue at all, because trying to live this life He has set out for us in our own strength is absolutely impossible.  Only His indwelling presence - and a daily all-day-long application of that presence - can give us the power to carry out His will. We can't just up and say, "Okay God, I think I got this licked - I'll take it from here," because every time - every single time - we will fall flat on our faces.  It never ceases to amaze me the number of ways that that completely selfish part of me rises up and tries to delude me into thinking I'm letting God run my life, when it's actually me behind the curtain with the remote control pushing buttons and levers like crazy. (It's like the Wizard of Oz, saying, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!")  And then I wonder why God's not coming through for me.  During the rare times when I single-mindedly sacrifice what I want on a continuous basis to Him and to what He wants for me, the power is there - inexplicably - to live life fully, in love, joy, peace, faith, and so much more.  

And the most amazing "God-moments" happen without me trying to "make" them happen.

My cross to bear is not one of duty-based deprivation or of penury (pauperism).  It is an honest, open, and willing acknowledgement (which bears fruit in action) that in every situation, God is God... and I am not.