Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sorting Out Who's Who of the Unwanted Guests

Following up on two previous posts about Pain (An Uninvited, Unwanted House Guest and Other Guests that Sneak in the Door with Pain), I'll share thoughts about sorting through all these unwanted guests in order to benefit from Pain's visit. It turns out that Pain is a beneficial visitor if received well and put to good use. She can be a great helper in the journey to mature self-giving love. The problem is that there are many and sundry other guests that slip in with her, and these visitors will destroy love if not handled well.

I'm not going to attempt to present anything comprehensive because our lives and situations are unique and very complicated. So this is simply a couple of things I've learned that may help as we each struggle to find what most helps in our own unique situation.

There are two really big guests that we should not have anything to do with from the start. First is the insidious guest named Perfectionism (sometimes called Religion). Anyone who has Pain as a visitor will need time to process her undesired visit in order to discover her value, and this process can take time. Perfectionism is quick to speak up and demand a correct attitude and behavior, thereby aborting the necessary process. Perfectionism is squeaky clean, very controlled and controlling. A couple of his cohorts are Guilt and Shame who do a lot of taunting when the person doesn't measure up to the demands of Perfectionism.

Beware of Perfectionism! There will be a period of time in which the host will likely need to entertain Self-Pity and Anger and Discouragement and others of the guests who have slipped in the door. Part of the host's way of finding his/her true humanity is having to sort through these guests by experiencing some of them firsthand. In time he will discover for himself the negative effect that they can have if entertained too long.

The other big visitor to avoid at all costs is Isolationism. He convinces the host to lock the door so that no other humans can get in. Some of the lies he whispers in order to get us to lock ourselves in are: "You can handle this on your own..." or "No one should see how you're really feeling so put on a good face" or "Everyone has their own problems and they don't want to hear about yours...", and on and on. In order for Pain to be a positive influence in our life, it's important that select others be involved and walk with us. They help by empathizing and by providing a perspective from outside ourselves which is needed in order to handle the many visitors that come and go as a result of Pain's visit.

Perfectionism and Isolationism - keep them away, and you may find that you will have discernment as to how to deal with the other undesirable guests.

Next I want to share a little about the gifts that have come with Pain's visit...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Other Guests that Sneak in the Door with Pain

Last week I shared about An Uninvited, Unwanted House Guest. I'm discovering that Pain, if put to proper use, turns out to be a good helper on the way to the Kingdom where love rules. However, close on her heels are other visitors who sneak in the door right behind her. These are toxic guests, some of whom have appealing personalities. They are many and sundry; I'm going to talk about two of them who have been most deadly for me.

They are Fear and Discouragement. Fear has been the most outspoken of these toxic guests. Because Pain always disables a person in one way or another, Fear is prompt and boisterous about what is going to happen as a result of the disablement. Fear speaks with a confident and assertive manner. He plays on the victim's ignorance about what's happening but he can also play on having too much information about what's happening. He knows how to use both ignorance and information for his purposes. His intent is to paralyze his victim or to get the person to act from a state of panic.

Word cloud of focus groups of Tea Party conservatives by Democracy ...
One reason Fear is so effective is that his reasoning seems so logical. And because he is boisterous, he drowns out the quiet, often silent, voices of Love and Joy, Peace and Patience, Kindness and Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control; it takes great effort and concentration to pick up on those quieter voices while Fear is yelling.

Close on the heels of Fear is Discouragement; he actually reaches into the soul of the victim and removes whatever courage was there, leaving the victim with no strength to do anything except to do what Fear dictates. Left to run his course and develop fully, Discouragement will grow into Despair, a state of mind which leaves the person without motivation to continue.

There are other subtle visitors lurking around, such as Religion (who accuses the person of not doing enough pious practices to convince God) and Self-Pity (who enjoys telling the victim that his/her situation is worse than anyone else's) and others; but for the sake of time, I'll leave it and let you, the reader, name your toxic visitors that have managed to sneak in with Pain.

Part of the way to make the most of Pain's visit is to learn to separate her from the toxic visitors that hover around her seeking to nullify the benefits of her visit. Next I will share thoughts about ways to sort out who's who of all these unwanted guests.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

An Uninvited, Unwanted House Guest

Awhile back I wrote a post about Much Afraid's companions, Sorrow and Suffering..., her strong helpers on her way to the Kingdom of Love.

Today along the same theme, I want to share about an uninvited and unwanted guest that has come to visit me. This guest's name is Pain - physical pain in my case, but she can come dressed in many different outfits. I'm struggling to learn how to host this guest who has moved in to live with me in spite of many and long-term efforts to remove her; most days she stays relatively quiet murmuring in a back room but there are days when she comes rushing into the front room, making a fuss and messing up my plans and hopes for the day.

Pain-ManagementBeing a normal human being who doesn't want Pain hanging out with me, I've done what I know to do about her through medical channels and through prayer and physical therapy, etc. All of this helps keep her in the back room for part of the time anyway, but none of my efforts have succeeded in expelling her from my home altogether and so I live with her for now.

To tell the truth, I haven't been a very good host. I was not expecting her when she showed up and I certainly didn't expect her to hang around so long, and I have cried and complained about her presence. But I've noticed something happening to my heart since she moved in, an enlarging of my heart. I find myself less judgmental of others and more willing to give people the benefit of the doubt when I see or hear of situations that I would have quickly judged as "wrong" in the past. My heart is soft and tender towards others' suffering and the desperation to find relief; I'm more patient. I love God more as I think about how he became human and allowed himself to feel the suffering that we feel as humans.

I'm beginning to conclude that Pain, like Much Afraid's companions, has come to help me in my journey to the Kingdom where God's love rules. And lately I'm becoming aware that while Pain herself is a good helper, others who sneak in the door with her are not very helpful.

Next I will share a few thoughts about these others who are easily confused with Pain but who are toxic companions...

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Much Safer Subject to Think About

Some years ago I had a pivotal experience in my growth in understanding what God is like. While I knew the love of God in my life before this, the revelation of His love for me in this particular moment hit me unlike ever before and it set me on a path that I've been on ever since.

I had gotten sick just before leaving on a flight for Mexico City, and I got worse in the following days after arriving there. One night the pain in my body reached a point where I wasn't sure if I'd make it through the night. As I lay in bed hardly able to move at all and feeling like I could die, everything became clear and black and white to me; I sensed the Lord asking me, "Nita, what is the one thing you are most sure about?" Without hesitating, I answered, "...that I love You, Lord."

I sensed His kind response to me: "That's good but there is something greater, and that is that I love you!" In that moment the eyes of my heart were opened to the reality that what is most trustworthy and sure is the unstoppable, unrelenting, unfailing, never-ending love of God.

C.S. Lewis says, "On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him." The apostle John says that we love Him because He loved us first. Our love for Him may be real and sincere but it is His unfailing and unconditional love for us upon which we must rest and build our lives or else we are left with the burden of religion, ever working and striving to be deserving of love.

The love of God for humans is best understood in the cross of His Son, Jesus. In the sacrificial offering of Himself on our behalf, God in Christ has made clear that He is for us at whatever cost to Himself!

Because God's love for us sinners is more secure ground to stand on than our love for Him, we can only find our hearts anchored in peace as we contemplate His love rather than ours.

In our weak condition, we humans are severely bent towards contemplating (giving our concentration to) just about everything else but His love, so it is the work of the Spirit in our lives with our cooperation that empowers us to look at Him. The following are simple suggestions about ways to cooperate with Him in this practice of thinking about God's love.

First, ask the Spirit of Jesus to strengthen your heart to say 'yes' to His love so that the proneness toward not believing His goodness and love is corrected with each 'yes.' The most difficult time to receive His love is when you have failed, but it's also the most important time to freely receive His affection for you.

Next study the cross by simply taking time to read and/or listen to the stories about Jesus' death and resurrection and the way He lived His earthly life with weak, failing humans. Picture yourself and your fears and failures in Him as He died. Ask the Lord to help you understand why He suffered and died so that you get a glimpse of your value to Him (Rom.5:8 "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.").

And finally, practice thinking about His love throughout your day; ask the Spirit to help you see the daily little comments or incidents through the lens of the cross. Develop the ability to see the love and affection of the Father coming at you constantly, whether your experiences are positive or negative, knowing that He is with you in all of it.

As we think/contemplate on this "safer subject" and drink deeply of that well, the overflow of His love will spill out onto Him and others.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Love Enables Us to Overlook a Multitiude of Sins

Some time ago when troubled by a particular situation, I was asking the Lord for understanding of why I was troubled. As I waited, the word "religion" came to mind. I remembered something that I've observed in the New Testament stories about Jesus. Whenever He would heal someone or there would be partying over His presence among the sinners, the religious people were unhappy. They couldn't look past the details of the law's requirements in order to celebrate the bigger and more important issues of forgiveness and joy and healing that Jesus' presence always brought to those who would receive Him.

I had a fresh glimpse into an aspect of religion: it majors on minors and is unable to overlook what it defines as 'lawless'. In his book, Repenting of Religion, Greg Boyd says that in religion, rules trump everything else.

In our proneness towards finding life from judging what's "right" and "wrong" (both in our own lives and those of others), we get easily sidetracked from loving and accepting others who are experiencing Jesus by critiquing whether a person's behavior is "right" or "wrong". Meanwhile Jesus, in His love and affection for the sinner, is able to overlook the smaller issues and celebrate the bigger issue of healing and freedom with the one He has touched. Love empowers us to overlook a multitude of sins.

In the particular situation referred to at the start of this post, there had been a breakthrough in the person's life, and the issue over which I was troubled was inconsequential in comparison. I was in danger of missing the Lord's joy over the person involved because of my concern over details of the "law". Because He opened my understanding, I was able to celebrate with Him and with the person...I'm grateful!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Moving on God's Trajectory is to Dare to Ask Questions

One of the great problems of organized religion is that it traps us into forms and mindsets that no longer serve God's purposes. This is true of the most vibrant movements in the church. The setting up of organizations to facilitate the fresh work of God begins the downward move towards dependence on systems to run and control things. This is hard to avoid, but the biggest danger of it is that we are generally unaware of what is happening and give ourselves completely to what we have established. This then tends to set in concrete something that is meant to remain dynamic and ready to change in any given moment as new generations come along. Even when a new generation comes along with vision to bring positive change, they encounter a system that has hardened and unable to change in any significant way.

One example of this is the charismatic movement that burst on the scenes in the '60s. I was in on the beginnings of that movement when it was fresh and vibrant. Today, although much of the language has remained the same, it has gone the way of all movements and is stuck in its own traps.

There are always 'prophets' who are alert to this hardening and address it in a variety of ways. That is true today as it has been throughout history. I'm not referring to people who are labeled prophets or to people who may have 'prophetic ministry' but to those who are awake to this reality and are calling God's people to new ways of seeing and understanding God and others. There is a great wealth of writing that is going on now that is challenging the status quo of the Christian world. Among them are people like Albert Nolan, Brian McLaren, Sharon Baker, Renee Girard, Walter Wink, Walter Brueggeman, Phyllis Tickle...and many more. These are not stereotypical prophets but are scholars and pastors and leaders calling for God's people to look at God through a different set of eyeglasses and realize that God is constantly moving forward and moving us with Him. If you read the Bible through the lens of a trajectory, you begin to realize that God has had His people on a trajectory that has continued to this day.

To dare to keep moving on that trajectory is to dare to ask questions and to sort through what we have inherited.

One well-known man in more recent Christian history, Watchman Nee, understood this concept and wrote the following:

"...We cannot overestimate the greatness of our heritage, nor can we be sufficiently grateful to God for it. But if today you try to be a Luther or a Wesley, you will miss your destiny. You will fall short of the purpose of God for this generation, for you will be moving backwards while the tide of the Spirit is flowing on. The whole trend of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a forward trend.

"God's acts are ever new. To hold on to the past, wanting God to move as He has formerly done, is to risk finding yourself out of the main stream of His goings. The flow of divine activity sweeps on from generation to generation, and in our own it is still uninterrupted, still steadily progressive."

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Truth is Meant to be Loved, not Always Known

Humans love to know things and the internet has taken this to a whole new level. I believe one primary reason we want to know and be certain about things is that it gives us a sense of control over our lives. Bit by bit as I lose certainty about some of the information I've believed about God and the Bible (subjects I thought I knew a lot about a few years ago), I'm discovering joy and peace in not being so sure about a lot of things. I'm discovering that to "know" in God doesn't mean being certain about information related to Him; in fact, I'm growing more in love now that I'm not as sure about it all. "Knowing" in God includes honest doubting and questioning and not knowing. Truth is meant to be loved, not always known. George MacDonald understood this and said the following:

"To know God is to be in the secret place of all knowledge; and to trust him changes the whole outlook surrounding mystery and seeming contradictions and unanswered questions from one of doubt or fear or bewilderment to one of hope. The unknown may be some lovely truth in store for us, which we are not yet ready to apprehend. Not to be intellectually certain of a truth does not prevent the heart that loves and obeys that truth from getting the goodness out of it, from drawing life from it because it is loved, not because it is understood."  (from MacDonald's book, "The Lady's Confession")

Flashlight in the Dark - Free Photo 
"Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to rouse the honest heart. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood...Doubts must precede every deeper assurance. For uncertainties are what we first see when we look into a region hitherto unknown, unexplored, unannexed."   (from "Discovering the Character of God")

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Jesus - Unique in Showing Us What God is Like

In this final post on the uniqueness of Jesus as seen through the eyes of Albert Nolan in his book, Jesus Before Christianity, I will go to the last chapter of the book in which Nolan highlights Jesus' divinity and argues that if we truly believe that Jesus is God, then we must accept that what we see in Jesus' life is exactly what God is like...

Speaking of the early church's response to Jesus after his life and death and resurrection, Nolan says, "...Everyone felt that despite his death Jesus was still leading, guiding and inspiring them...Jesus remained present and active through the presence and activity of his Spirit...Jesus was everything...Their admiration and veneration for him knew no bounds. He was in every way the ultimate, the only criterion of good and evil and of truth and falsehood, the only hope for the future, the only power which could transform the world...Jesus was experienced as the breakthrough in the history of humanity. He transcended everything that had ever been said and done before. He was in every way the ultimate, the last word. He was on a par with God. His word was God's word. His Spirit was God's Spirit. His feelings were God's feelings...

"To believe in Jesus today is to agree with this assessment of him...To believe that Jesus is divine is to choose to make him and what he stands for your God...By his words and his praxis, Jesus himself changed the content of the word 'God.' If we do not allow him to change our image of God, we will not be able to say that he is our Lord and our God. To choose him as our God is to make him the source of our information about divinity and to refuse to superimpose upon him our own ideas of divinity...Jesus reveals God to us, God does not reveal Jesus to us...if we accept Jesus as divine, we must reinterpret the Old Testament from Jesus' point of view and we must try to understand the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the way in which Jesus did..."

Free Bible images of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. (John 13:1-17): Slide 6Nolan sums up the implications of Jesus being God: "We have seen what Jesus was like. If we now wish to treat him as our God, we would have to conclude that our God does not want to be served by us, but wants to serve us; God does not want to be given the highest possible rank and status in our society, but wants to take the lowest place and to be without any rank and status; God does not want to be feared and obeyed, but wants to be recognized in the sufferings of the poor and the weak; God is not supremely indifferent and detached, but is irrevocably committed to the liberation of humankind, for God has chosen to be identified with all people in a spirit of solidarity and compassion. If this is not a true picture of God, then Jesus is not divine. If this is a true picture of God, then God is more truly human, more thoroughly humane, than any human being..."

Oh Lord, Your gospel is the everlasting good news for all peoples in all places of all generations! You have shown the Father to be approachable, desirable, serving, tender towards weak and fearful humans; You enjoy us and want to be with us. We would never have dreamt that God could be this good and kind - help us look at Jesus and believe and be healed by Your full acceptance of us...and then in turn share this good news with those You place us among. Thank You! We worship You now and forever!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Jesus - Unique in Resisting Pressure to Use Violence to Establish God's Kingdom

In chapter 15 of Jesus Before Christianity, Albert Nolan speaks of how Jesus was tempted to bring about God's kingdom on earth by violent means. He points out two incidents close to the end of Jesus' life where it seems apparent that Jesus was tempted to accept the pressures on Him to the kingship of Israel. The first temptation came through a crowd of 4-5,000 men and the second pressure through Peter.

Nolan interprets the story of Jesus' feeding the 4-5,000 men as a gathering that was likely organized purposely to try to persuade Jesus to take on the powers and become king of Israel. Although this story became popular because of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Nolan proposes that phrases from the different scriptural accounts about this incident hint that this crowd had gathered with the intention of making Jesus king (Mark 6:30-44; John 6:1-15)...

"He (Jesus) was a Galilean, a prophet and a wonderworker with a natural talent for leadership and he had recently made a name for himself by defying the authorities in Jerusalem and 'cleansing' the Temple. There may even have been some rumors that he was a descendant of David.

"Jesus was not unsympathetic toward their aspirations, their desire for liberation and their need of a shepherd. But he tried to persuade them that God's ways were not the ways of human beings and that the 'kingdom' of God would not be like the usual kingdoms of humans...

"But his teaching and the miracle of sharing only made them all the more convinced that he was the Messiah, God's chosen king. Before the situation could get out of hand he forced his disciples to leave in a boat and dispersed the crowds. He then felt the need for solitude, reflection and prayer.

"The second temptation came from Peter...Peter, on behalf of the other disciples, declares that he looks upon Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus responds by giving them strict orders not to say that about him to anyone and then he begins to tell them that it will be his destiny to suffer rejection. Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him but Jesus in his turn rebukes Peter...

"This must have been a very serious quarrel. Peter was angry with Jesus for talking about rejection and failure when the opportunity was there to seize power and become Messiah. Jesus was angry with Peter for playing the role of Satan, the tempter, and thinking as men usually do in terms of the power of force.

"We should not underestimate the reality of this temptation for Jesus. (see Lk 4:5-8; Mt 4:8-10) ...Jesus had to struggle with this temptation to seize power, to accept the kingship and to rule over a new empire - 'all the kingdoms of the world'. Would this not be the best way of liberating the poor and the oppressed? Could he not exercise authority as a service to all people after he had seized power by force?...

"Jesus was not a pacifist in principle, he was a pacifist in practice, that is to say, in the concrete circumstances of his time...The 'kingdom' of total liberation for all people cannot be established by violence. Faith alone can enable the 'kingdom' to come."

Teach us, Jesus, how to walk in the ways of the Father in the midst of a world that operates on the principle of violence and force to get things done. Help us trust that Your ways really do work and give us the courage to walk in them...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jesus - Unique in Loyalty to God's Political System

In this small series of posts (starting here), I am attempting to show the uniqueness of Jesus as borne out in Albert Nolan's book, Jesus Before Christianity. In his study of Jesus and how he lived His life as a Jewish man in the midst of the religious and political systems of his day, Nolan shows that Jesus was a highly political figure in that he was unswerving in his loyalty to God's kingdom, refusing to live according to the values of worldly systems (money, prestige, power). Surrounded by adherents of a variety of religious and political parties, Jesus was loyal to one kingdom only - God's kingdom - and this made him a dangerous revolutionary:

"Jesus' social mixing with sinners in the name of God and his confidence that they had God's approval while the virtuous did not were the 'violation' of all that God and religion and virtue and justice had ever meant. But then Jesus was not busy with a religious revival; he was busy with a revolution - a revolution in religion, in politics and in everything else.

"It would have been impossible for the 'men' of Jesus' time to have thought of him as an eminently religious man who steered clear of politics and revolution. They would have seen him as a blasphemously irreligious man who under the cloak of religion was undermining all the values upon which religion, politics, economics and society were based. He was a dangerous and subtly subversive revolutionary.

"Jesus disapproved of Roman oppression just as much as any Jew did, albeit for different reasons. He disapproved of their way of 'making their authority felt' and their way of 'lording it over their subjects.' But he envisaged changing this by changing Israel so that Israel could present the Romans with a living example of the values and ideals of the 'kingdom'...

"However, Jesus did eventually feel that it would be necessary to confront those Jews who collaborated with Rome: the chief priests and elders, the leaders of the people, who belonged to the party of the Sadducees. Up till now Jesus had criticized the 'men of religion', especially the scribes and Pharisees; now he must confront the 'men of affairs', the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. Not so much because they collaborated with Rome but because they exploited the poor...(it was this confrontation) which brought him to a violent death."

Do what You need to do, Spirit of God, to sever the loyalties that we Your church have with worldly political systems. Give us fresh leadership that understands the seductiveness of worldly systems, be they religious or political, and put in us the unswerving loyalty that Jesus had to God's kingdom.