Wednesday, June 14, 2017

God's Dysfunctional Family

Religion places emphasis on performance and looking right. The emphasis in recent decades on how a 'Christian family' should look has resulted in much false and unnecessary guilt over the condition of one's family. Often because of judgmentalism and criticism that comes if one is open and honest, there is a lot of guilt and cover up in the church.

Some time ago when I read the words of the apostle Paul to the Ephesians: "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name..." (Eph. 3:14 NIV), I was struck with this picture of God being Father of all the families of the earth. 

The picture of the divine Parent with countless children struck me in a new way. Why should any parent ever feel guilty for their dysfunctional family when the perfect heavenly Parent has nothing but dysfunctional children?! 

(This doesn't excuse evil treatment of children; I'm referring to the average parent who does their best to love and care for their children. Nor does this mean parents shouldn't seek to do whatever possible to bring healing and restoration, but laboring under false guilt hinders the healing process.)

So take heart! If you struggle with serious family issues and are tempted to feel guilty for having problems that religion and/or society says you shouldn't have, look to the Father of all and be assured that He understands your pain and suffering because of His own children, all of whom are broken and lost in one way or another. 

Friday, May 05, 2017

The Dark Night: Idols Being Toppled, Desiring God for God Alone

Gerald May was a psychiatrist who worked with addicts; he wrote several books, two of which I have read and reread because of their impact on me. Although he was a brilliant doctor, his writings are almost devotional and inspiring. He had an unusual ability to blend his understanding of psychology and theology. The following quote is from his wonderful book, The Dark Night of the Soul. It is one of the finest books I've read on this topic.

Although this book is not directed at substance abusers, he makes reference to them at times because of his work with them and his understanding that all humans are addicted. In referring to recovering addicts who cling to God simply because of the "desperate need to stay alive," May says the following,

"Many people continue in recovery this way for years - perhaps for their whole lives. Others, however, experience something different at a certain point along the way. After having worked the program for a while, a person may begin to notice that what began as a desperate need for God is changing into a loving desire for God. It is as if God were saying, 'Of course I want to be your saving Higher Power. But I also want to be so much more to you. I want to be your deepest love.' And somehow, something in the person's heart has become free enough to say yes to this barely heard invitation...

"Before, one needed God as the agent of recovery, the divine dispenser of grace. Now this need is developing into a love for God as God's self. This is a beautiful happening, but it brings with it a new relinquishment that can feel deeply threatening. Along with the sweetness of emerging love comes a certain shakiness about recovery. Recovery is no longer the single most important thing in life. Something else has taken place, and the fear of relapse grows.

"Later, one may come to realize that recovery, as the most important thing in life, had become an idol. God was a means to an end: recovery. Then in darkness, after the heart said yes and love grew, the idol of recovery teetered and fell. The powers had shifted. Recovery is now no longer the end, but only a means in the service of love.

"All the signs of the night are there in this transition. What had worked before no longer does, and one's previous energetic dedication is waning. More disturbing still, the deep care, the desperate need for recovery seems undermined. And if given the unusual insight and courage to admit it, one would have to say the deepest desire is no longer for recovery but for God alone."

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Lent - a Time for Recalibrating

Recently I asked myself this question: "Is my interest in continuing to learn and to grow in knowledge so that I can understand God better and thereby love Him and others more, or is it so that I can prove that I'm 'right' and win arguments? Is it so that I can give life to others or so that I can feel superior to others?"

I believe this was the Spirit's way of continuing to re-calibrate my journey in Him to keep me focused on loving Him with all my heart, mind, soul and strength and loving my neighbor as myself.

In the story of the garden of Eden, we see the two ways of knowing that humans are offered: knowing independently of God (the tree of knowledge of good and evil) and knowing in God (the tree of life). We humans have a wonderful capacity for knowing and learning, making great and wonderful discoveries because of being made in the image of our Creator; but when we exercise this capability apart from relationship with Him, even the discoveries we make that are beneficial to others have a dark underbelly to them and side effects that are worse than the knowledge/discovery.

The follower of Jesus is not immune to this reality. We never reach a place where trust and dependence on God is not necessary in our growth in understanding (whether that be theological understanding or any other discoveries). As we pursue knowledge that leads to creativity, we must do so in Him and dependent on Him; in other words, we must seek knowledge while in vital relationship with Him and with the awareness that the purpose of learning is to better understand God and others and to be conformed to His likeness so that the way we live our life is like Jesus lived His: in loving communion with God and loving actions towards all humans. A common deadly side effect to gaining better understanding of God and His ways is pride and a sense of being superior to others.

When we grow in knowledge while depending on God, the benefits of that knowledge will have no deadly side effects. 

If increased understanding is not producing increasing tenderness towards God and others, then it may be time to step back and allow His Spirit to examine us. Lent can be a good time for this. For each person this will look different, but a periodic time of healthy self-reflection (not a morbid unhealthy religious self-hatred type of exercise) is helpful in re-calibrating the direction in which we are headed. Our natural propensity towards taking what we are learning and using it in unloving, self-serving ways requires that we allow God's Spirit to call us apart (for a moment, a day, a week...) for renewal and a fresh reminder of what life is really about: receiving His freely-given love in order to freely love Him and others with the same love and therein bring life and peace into our small corner of the world.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

On Judging Others (part 4)

Below are the final points by Frederick Faber on the topic of judging others (points 7 & 8), following the summaries of the first 6 points. If you want to see the first 6 points fleshed out, you can find them here, and here, and here.

1.  It is a universal law that when we judge others, whether individuals or multitudes, we come to erroneous conclusions from the mere fact that we naturally judge over-harshly.

2.  Severity is one of the natural accompaniments of a young and immature state of grace. 

3.  When we see evil in others, we never can see the amount of inward resistance which the person has given to the evil, or the amount of humiliation and sorrow which they may have for their own failures and defects. 

4. The evil in our fellows strikes us with bold startling proportions, whereas goodness is more quiet and hidden, and often passes unobserved...

5. Satan is active, but grace is more active.

6. We see the evil in our fellows much sooner than the good. 

7. In our opinions of others we fail to distinguish between the sinfulness of sin and the deformity which has resulted from sin...We judge people, not so much by how they stand to God as by the inconvenient or disagreeable way in which they may stand to us...This is why an impartial God must condemn us often for the condemnation we give to others, because our judgments do not proceed from the love of God but from personal taste.

8. Nothing is more amazing than the patient, gentle charity that God displays to His creatures. There is something adorable in the compassion of God for mankind which looks like a voluntary blindness to their evil...The Bible is full of instances of this in His dealings with both nations and individuals, where His justice seems to move with tortoise pace, constantly pursuing but seemingly on purpose to be a long while catching up with the one to be punished, as if to give him every allowance possible to infinite mercy...the more we are with God and the more deeply we drink of the interior sweetness of His life, the more we shall catch something of His gentleness and compassion of spirit which will destroy our proclivity for harsh judgments and take away the keenness by which we discover evil in others.  

This writing on judging others by Faber ends with these observations:
"Even where judgments are legitimate and unavoidable, we may lay it down as a rule that the severity of our judgments is an infallible index to the lowness of our spiritual state. Green sanctity is ever swift and sharp and thinks God is too lenient, and often acts as if His judgment throne wanted an occupant. Mature, mellow sanctity is always slow, gentle and compassionate, making allowances for others which it never feels justified in making for itself..."

 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

On Judging Others (part 3)

This is the continuation of the series of quotes about judging others from Frederick Faber. The first 2 summarized points below are from part 1 and points 3 and 4 are from part 2:

1.  It is a universal law that when we judge others, whether individuals or multitudes, we come to erroneous conclusions from the mere fact that we naturally judge over-harshly.

2.  Severity is one of the natural accompaniments of a young and immature state of grace. 

3.  When we see evil in others, we never can see the amount of inward resistance which the person has given to the evil, or the amount of humiliation and sorrow which they may have for their own failures and defects. 

4. The evil in our fellows strikes us with bold startling proportions, whereas goodness is more quiet and hidden, and often passes unobserved...

5. Satan is active, but grace is more active. ...we fail to see that God is ten thousand times more active than Satan, though He seems to be less so...we do not know how to follow God in the deep seclusion of His work, for He works opposite to the methods of satan, and is constantly accomplishing marvelous things in human souls which we do not suspect...If we actually saw what God is doing in the very people we often criticize and condemn, we could be utterly astonished at the immensity, the vigor, and the versatility of the magnificent spiritual work which God is doing all around us in the world.

6. We see the evil in our fellows much sooner than the good. On a very short acquaintance with persons we discover their defects, and the things in them which are disagreeable to us, and soon find the weak point in them where they are most likely to fail; but their better nature is more slowly unfolding...This invisible character of goodness is not so obtrusive as defects because there is an instinctive bashfulness in goodness...oftentimes in little things, in the ordinary wear and tear of life, there will come forth in unostentatious ways traits of humility and self-depreciation, or patience and sweetness and unselfishness beyond what we expect of them.
 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

On Judging Others (part 2)

The following are more insights from Frederick Faber as found in Paul Billheimer's book, Love Covers, on the topic of judging others. The first two points summarized from last week's post are:

1.  It is a universal law that when we judge others, whether individuals or multitudes, we come to erroneous conclusions from the mere fact that we naturally judge over-harshly.

2.  Severity is one of the natural accompaniments of a young and immature state of grace. 

3.  When we see evil in others, we never can see the amount of inward resistance which the person has given to the evil, or the amount of humiliation and sorrow which they may have for their own failures and defects. The violence of temptation is always invisible, and its peculiar oppressiveness, owing to heredity, or education, or previous modes of living, can never be estimated by a fellow creature. There are depths of invincible ignorance...which every human character has in some one or more direction, and it is almost universally true that even among good religious people there is one point of moral excellence upon which they seem stupid...In judging others we fail to see how many odd crossings there are in people's minds, which tell upon their motives and hamper the free action of their moral sense. Much sin lies at the door of a warped mind, but how much guilt there is in the sin can be known to God alone. The heart is the jewel that He covets for His crown, and if the habitual attitude of the heart is better than any particular action which we see, God be praised for it.

4. The evil in our fellows strikes us with bold startling proportions, whereas goodness is more quiet and hidden, and often passes unobserved...It must be observed that evil, of its own nature, is more visible than goodness...The evil we see, or think we see, in others is easily recognized, but often the people we are judging are more keenly alive to their defects than we imagine and may grieve over them in secret...God has so contrived the moral world that the greater part of goodness must of necessity be hidden like Himself...
 

 


Sunday, January 15, 2017

"On Judging Others" (part 1)

Recently I picked up a book I read years ago: Love Covers by Paul Billheimer; in it he argues that what is most needed is for followers of Jesus to love one another and not allow doctrinal differences to divide us. Some of what he writes was aimed at the generation he lived in, and his references to some issues no longer pertain; nevertheless, the heart of what he writes is very pertinent to our times.

At the end of the book, he includes a writing by Frederick W. Faber about judging others. It is rich in wisdom and insight and is very challenging, so I want to share parts of it with you. To keep it to shorter portions for the sake of being able to ponder and pray over it, I'll take 3 or 4 postings to share it. The following is from Frederick Faber:

1. It is a universal law that when we judge others, whether individuals or multitudes, we come to erroneous conclusions from the mere fact that we naturally judge over-harshly.
It is one of the effects of our fallen nature to put the worst construction upon what we see or hear about others, and to make small, if any, allowance for the hidden good that is in them. Also, we unwittingly judge of others by the worst parts of our own disposition, and not by the best. It is natural for us to judge of ourselves by the best things in us, but we judge of others by the worst things in us. It is so common to impute our evil to others, but to think our goodness is peculiarly our own.

2.  Severity is one of the natural accompaniments of a young and immature state of grace. 
Many religious people think that the power to detect evil in others is a special gift from God, to be prized and cultivated, and if such people are inclined to hunt for evil they can always find it to their satisfaction; but the practice begets a habit of suspicion which is utterly ruinous to the deep love of God and to Christlikeness of disposition. Men are never industrious in handing out the good about others, but have a terrific swiftness in seeing the evil; and even religious people, in many instances, have an awful propensity for circulating the evil, but they are very slow to tell the good. It is also a trait among human beings to be most severe with those of their own class, or guild, or profession...

 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

December Prayers: One Final Prayer for 2016

I'll close this series of simple prayers and end the year with the 'breath prayer' that I pray daily, sometimes many times during the day:

Psalm 119:94a

"I am yours; save me..."

God is with you as you enter into a new year with Him.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

December Prayers: The Creator Knows Me

Psalm 139:1-18 (CEB):

Lord, you have examined me.
    You know me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up.
    Even from far away, you comprehend my plans.
You study my traveling and resting.
    You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.
There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord,
    that you don’t already know completely.
You surround me—front and back.
    You put your hand on me.
That kind of knowledge is too much for me;
    it’s so high above me that I can’t fathom it.

Where could I go to get away from your spirit?
    Where could I go to escape your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there.
    If I went down to the grave,[a] you would be there too!
If I could fly on the wings of dawn,
    stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—
10         even there your hand would guide me;
        even there your strong hand would hold me tight!
11 If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;
        the light will become night around me,”
12     even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!
        Nighttime would shine bright as day,
        because darkness is the same as light to you!
13 You are the one who created my innermost parts;
    you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb.
14 I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.
    Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.
15 My bones weren’t hidden from you
    when I was being put together in a secret place,
    when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my embryo,
    and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me,[b]
    before any one of them had yet happened.[c]
17 God, your plans are incomprehensible to me!
    Their total number is countless!
18 If I tried to count them—they outnumber grains of sand!
    If I came to the very end—I’d still be with you.[d]

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

December Prayers: Teach Me to Forgive

A prayer from Andrew Murray's book, Teach Me to Pray:

"Blessed Father, you are Love, and only he who abides in love abides in you and in fellowship with you...O God, let your love, planted in my heart by the Holy Spirit, be in me a fountain of love to all those around me, that out of my life may spring the power of believing prayer. Especially help me to find in the joy with which I forgive day by day whoever might offend me, the proof that your forgiveness is power and life.

"Lord Jesus, my blessed teacher, teach me to forgive. Let the power of your blood make the pardon of my sins such a reality that forgiveness, as shown by you to me and by me to others, be the very joy of heaven..."