Sunday, May 24, 2015

What Does it Mean to Love the Truth?

The apostle John's writings indicate to me that he was a lover of truth. His gospel and epistles focus on the word "truth" which is repeated many times. John says in his third epistle, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth."

There's a difference between being a lover of truth and being one who simply knows true information or correct doctrines. I believe that one thing that defines John as being a lover of truth is that he loved and knew Truth personified, the Lord Jesus. John's writings about Jesus are very personal writings. Much more than simply giving data and facts about the Man, John shares from a deep personal relationship with Him.

I want to suggest some characteristics of being a lover of truth:
  • An ongoing and growing relationship with Jesus who is Truth personified; i.e., not settling for facts and doctrines about Him but asking His Spirit for encounters (whatever that may look like for each person) with Him and an understanding of Who He is and what He's like, how He feels and thinks about His creation in general and of me in particular.
  • A holy desire for truth that is strong enough to be willing to 'unlearn' whatever you need to in order to continue to mature in knowing and loving the Truth. We should never be content with what we have learned. This can be painful for us because it disorients us to discover that something we were so sure of a little while ago isn't aligned with the full truth of the Kingdom of God. It takes great courage and humility and desire to love the Truth.
  • Walking in the Truth; i.e., not being hearers only but doers of the Truth, obeying and imitating Jesus in our daily living.
We can't manufacture artificial desire but we can place our hearts and minds before Him and ask Him to awaken desire for Jesus to such a degree that we will embrace Truth even when it cuts across the grain of how we presently live and believe. May we, like the Apostle John, find great delight in loving the Truth and having many "children" who love the Truth.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

GK Chesterton: Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Badly

Scripture is full of stories that show us that God doesn't expect great and perfect works from those who follow Him. However, it's common for us to have illusions of grandeur and perfection; i.e., we believe that the measure of approval we will get from God is dependent on how much we do and how close to perfection we can do it.

Over and over we read of those whose small sincere and often faulty obedience was all it took for God to do great things. The point of these stories is that it's God who does the great things with our small and inadequate actions because of His great care for humans.

One such story is that of the young boy's offering of his loaves and fish to Jesus (John 6). This was a poor inadequate offer on the boy's part in the sense that it didn't come close to meeting the need represented by the crowd's hunger. But Jesus, unperturbed by the tiny bit of food and caring that the people were hungry, unhesitatingly accepted the "foolish" offering and used it to satisfy the hunger of the large crowd.

Jesus feeds more than 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. (Matthew 14:13-22, Mark 6:31-46, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-13): Slide 7Often in our lives we labor under feelings of inadequacy or guilt that we aren't fasting or praying enough or doing great things for God, but this kind of heavy burden indicates that our focus is more on how much and how well we're serving than on His desire and His ability to take our small and feeble offering and multiply it into blessing for many.

In our fallenness we are prone to look inward at how well we are performing for God rather than to look up and away from ourselves to Him and to how desirous and able He is to do much with the little that we give Him in faith.

Religion requires perfectionism; God asks for trust. Perfectionism focuses on my offering to God and on getting it right (self-rightness); trust focuses on God and how perfectly He did it in the Lord Jesus. Perfectionism attempts to compete with God's work; trust responds with utter dependence on God's self-giving work.

We've all heard the saying, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well." G.K. Chesterton reworded this to say: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." This isn't advocating sloppiness or carelessness but simply acknowledging that God desires our inadequate offerings of love and that we must not allow perfectionism to paralyze us because we can't "do it well".

I want to be increasingly like the young boy who didn't allow self-conscious fear of inadequacy keep him from giving what he had at hand, trusting that Jesus would do well with it. He had his eyes set on Jesus rather than on the inadequacy of his lunch.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Injuries Hinder Our Ability to See God Correctly

As I struggle to regain the ability to walk normally, I'm spending a lot of time doing water exercises. The pool that I visit is at the local YMCA, and as soon as I get into it, the first thing I do is walk across it a couple of times before doing other therapy exercises.

I've been doing this for some months, and since the start I've felt like the floor of the pool was not level. I couldn't imagine that such a new and well-made pool would have a floor that was uneven so I continued to walk it as though it was level. Nevertheless it felt so uneven to me that it was hard for me to shake that idea.

Recently my sister took me to the pool and got in with me. I asked her to walk across it and tell me if it felt even to her. She walked it and assured me that the pool floor was level.

That was my confirmation that the problem wasn't the floor but my disability, particularly the injured leg that keeps me from walking properly.

This is an example of how easy it is for us humans to misread God. In areas where we suffer from emotional or mental or spiritual 'disability', we easily misread or misjudge the truth because it feels so wrong, so "uneven." Consequently, we continue to walk according to our personal 'injuries'.

Man walking on road - Close up of a man walking on road
Our brokenness as humans causes us to misjudge God's goodness. Our notions of Him are often distorted because of our 'disabilities'. Only in Jesus can we get the full and true version of the Father. As we place our faith in Him as the perfect reflection of God, we can "exercise" according to what He shows us in spite of our internal injuries that would guide us to exercise incorrectly.

Just as my sister and my therapist and others can reassure me that the pool floor is level, so those around us who don't have the same emotional or mental or spiritual disability that we have can be a help to assure us that God is like Jesus no matter how much our subjective experience may tell us differently. With that assurance we can align our 'exercises' with Truth, and over time the crooked part in us becomes straight and in agreement with that which is true/level.

Psalm 27:11 (NET) Teach me how you want me to live; lead me along a level path because of those who wait to ambush me!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Macro-skies, Micro-self and God's Presence

Greg Boyd has written a book on practicing the presence of God (Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now), and one of the features I like so well about it is that he includes a number of practical exercises that the reader can do in becoming more aware and awake to the reality that God is with us every moment.

One of these practices is what he calls "standing in the middle of infinity", and I want to share this practice with you. Boyd says the following:

"...Over the last century science has discovered that we live in a mind-boggling universe that is virtually infinite above us as well as below us. Above us, the universe is unimaginably large and expanding at ever-increasing speeds. It contains billions upon billions of galaxies, each spanning hundreds of millions of light-years and containing hundreds of billions of stars, many of them much larger than our sun. The universe below us is equally unimaginable as we are discovering particles so tiny they could pass through light-years of solid steel before they'd likely collide with another particle. There is, in fact, as much 'small reality' beneath us as there is 'large reality' above us.

Check out this magnificent view. It looks like this man is standing on ...
...we can think of ourselves as situated in the middle of a virtual infinity extending beneath us into incomprehensible smallness and above us into incomprehensible vastness. To remain aware of the awesomeness of the God whose presence engulfs me, I find it helpful to remember this fact as I experience events around me."

Here is the exercise Boyd suggests: "Sit in a comfortable public place and simply observe events around you...try to remain aware of the virtual infinity extending above and beneath you and everything you observe...

I find it helpful to zoom out past innumerable gigantic galaxies as I observe things while I also mentally zoom in on a particular tiny segment of what I'm observing (a blade of grass or a pebble, for example) and envision a veritable universe of particles  flying around inside the tiny segment...I then remind myself that however far out and far down my mind may go, God is present there...

The incomprehensible greatness of God's glory expressed in the unfathomable vastness of reality above us and unimaginable smallness and complexity of reality below us is exceeded only by the absolutely unlimited, unending, and unwavering perfection of God's love, revealed on Calvary...

As you engage in the discipline of situating yourself in the middle of infinity, therefore, be sure to remain aware that you are surrounded every nanosecond by the infinite intensity of God's burning, perfect, Calvary-like love."

The language of Psalm 8:3,4 (from The Message) captures the essence of what Boyd is talking about:

                               I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
                                     your handmade sky-jewelry,
                              Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
                                    Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
                              Why do you bother with us?
                                    Why take a second look our way?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Something to Think About and Discuss...

In his book, "Christ, the Sum of all Spiritual Things", Watchman Nee says something wonderful about what God has given us in Christ Jesus. I'll quote from him and then suggest a question for discussion with others. Nee says the following:

"There is nothing more important than to know the Lord...Knowing Him requires a spiritual seeing ...everything depends upon Christ, and not upon us...When we first became a Christian, we were inclined to do everything ourselves, fearing lest nothing would ever be done or matters would fall to pieces if we did not do them...Later in having seen the Lord to be our life, we know that all is of Christ and not of us. Consequently, we learn to rest and to look to Him...

"What we need to comprehend before God is that in our experience...(it is) not that He gives us light, but that He is our light; not that He leads the way, but He is the way; not that He gives us a life, but He is our life; not that He teaches a truth, but He is the truth. What Christ gives is His very own self...

"Christ does not come to sanctify us, He comes to be Himself our sanctification. Our sanctification is not a thing, an action, or a behavior. Our sanctification is a person, even Christ...

"Thank God, Christ is our redemption as well as our redeemer. He is our sanctification as well as our sanctifier. He is our righteousness as well as our justifier. He is our wisdom as well as the One who makes us wise. Christianity is none other than Christ Himself."

The question that I suggest worth taking time to ponder and to discuss with someone else is this: if we truly believe that Christianity is more about getting to know and trust a Person than about adhering to particular doctrines/beliefs, how might this change the way we live and how we relate to others? I believe that if the implications of this are carefully and prayerfully thought out and talked out with others, we could be surprised at how it might shape and reshape our mindsets about what it means to be followers of Jesus (both individually and collectively).

Saturday, April 18, 2015

God's Road Signs and His Favorite Speed

Now that I'm in my third year of recovery from injuries to my right leg, I think I'm beginning to understand a little bit about God's favorite speed: apart from a miracle, He seems to like SLOW, really slow! Dr. Curt Thompson, a psychiatrist who studies the brain and applies that to our walk with God, wrote along these lines in his blog post One Millimeter per Month from which the following is a quote:

"When I was in medical school, we learned that if a nerve is severed, it can begin to regenerate, but only at the rate of about 1 millimeter per month, depending on how serious and extensive the injury is. Some injuries can repair more quickly, up to 1 millimeter per day...Imagine how long it will take for a damaged nerve in a hand to return to health... Even more complicated, what about the neurological implications of relationships that have been traumatized in innumerable ways that seem beyond repair? What has any of this to do with God’s pace?

"What the story of the brain and nervous system seems to reveal is that God is very serious about the change he is bringing about in this world. And his seriousness translates not only into large, sweeping sea changes (think, the work of William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King, Jr.), but perhaps more often in the most microscopic, detailed spaces such as a single moment of restraint when disciplining a child; confessing a wrong done rather than sweeping it underthe rug; or beginning a practice of regular, rhythmic fasting, solitude, or journaling in order to open up channels for God’s spirit to have access to you. None of these latter things listed would seem in and of themselves to change the world. No journalist will cover these events for the Washington Post. But if neurons only grow at the pace mentioned above, it will take lots of practice, and lots of time to coax them to create new networks. If God has made me with neurons, then I can’t change any faster than they can...

"Now, if I begin to pay attention to this reality, this awareness of God’s comfort with his own pace, perhaps I need not worry so much that I’m not changing quickly enough—more importantly, that others are not changing quickly enough either. And the odd thing is, when I am less worried, I am more likely to be open to the changes I so long for in the first place, especially if I am closely connected with others whose pilgrimages are moving in the same direction."

Now that I'm beginning to see a bit of daylight in my recovery, I'm not only more aware of what seems to be God's preferred speed of working but am also beginning to appreciate the wisdom that I see in the slower pace and the detours and roadblocks that come along the way to make the already unbearably slow 15-miles-per-hour speed come to a full STOP from time to time.

As Dr. Thompson says, if God is comfortable with this pace, then perhaps we can find peace in the slowness of His working and reap the fruit of patient daily perseverance.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Spiritual Disciplines: Sailing or Rowing?

Some years ago, the Lord quickened Galatians 3:1-3 to me as a watchword and loving warning when I was helping to begin a prayer ministry.

The Holy Spirit's faithful reminder to me of this word through the following years in this particular ministry served us well. In fact, it was a large part of what gave us alertness to continually change the way we did things and gave me direction when the day came that I sensed I was to step away entirely from it.

The Message expresses this portion of Galatians 3 as follows:
"Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God's message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren't smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing?"

I was blessed by a blog post that applies this idea to the spiritual disciplines; the following is a quote from it: 
"One of the things that I’m discovering about spiritual disciplines is that I often take that which is relational in its very nature and turn it into something mechanical. Sometimes I find myself thinking: If I carve out time to engage in lectio divina, then God will reveal Christ to me in a way that almost feels tangible. The problem with this approach is it assumes an A + B = C sort of spirituality. If I read the Bible and pray, the formula will yield intimacy with the Spirit of Christ. So, all week long as I fail to create space for my personal holiness mechanism, I begin to use words that contaminate any spiritual vocabulary. The words – fail, success, must, accomplish, achieve, or should – usually demonstrate that one’s faith journey has moved from relational to mechanical approaches to God. When we get to this point we’re basically taking a 'should' on our lives as kingdom people."  (Kurt Willems)

Further down in his short post Kurt recommends that we see our walk with God more like being in a sailboat, discerning and catching the ever-changing direction of God's wind and going with Him, rather than as a rowboat in which we are trying to get somewhere or make something happen through hard effort. I agree. In our fallenness, we humans are strongly bent towards mechanizing that which begins organically, and I'm convinced that only the power of the resurrected life of Jesus can enable us to continue in the same spirit as we began (be that in our personal journey with God or in our collective walk and ministry).

It's a great little article that I recommend if this topic is pertinent to you now: Taking a 'Should' on our Spiritual Lives.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Hound of Heaven

In the recent post, A Much Safer Subject, I quoted C.S. Lewis who said that the love of God for us is a much safer subject to meditate on than our love for God. This is because our love for Him flounders and is weak, but His love for us is strong and unrelenting and unending.

The Scriptures are full of different ways of encouraging God's people to depend and trust in His unfailing love for us. Ultimately this is the only place of peace and rest for the human soul. When all looks hopeless and impossible in the natural, we find rest in knowing that God is love and that He will not relent nor quit in His pursuit of us and in His pursuit of all humans.

He is an all-consuming Fire of desire for weak humans, and He is filled with divine energy to tirelessly seek and chase us down! In this desire of God is where I find my confidence in prayer for myself and for others - not in my zeal nor my intercession nor my efforts nor my love, but in His unrelenting zeal, His unceasing intercession, His divinely initiated works, and His selfless love.

The cross of Jesus is the highest expression of this reality in God, and this is the solid ground on which I plant my feet when my zeal falters and I'm surrounded with impossible situations. If my focus and trust is in the strength of my love for God, I will be discouraged; if I meditate and trust in the strength and endurance of His love for me and for those I pray for, my heart will be strengthened to believe and to remain steady even while trembling.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Darkness is God's Best Gift to You

In her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor has a chapter about the "dark night of the soul", a term made famous by John of the Cross, a sixteenth century monk who wrote the book by that title during the 11 months that he spent in a monastery prison.

Taylor writes in this chapter about how averse we are to uncertainty and how all of our carefully crafted creeds and doctrines over the centuries have attempted to make us sure about who God is. But John of the Cross says that "one of the central functions of the dark night is to convince those who grasp after things that God cannot be grasped."

She goes on to write the following about John of the Cross: "...he says that darkness is God's best gift to you, intended for your liberation. It is about freeing you from your ideas about God, your fears about God, your attachment to the benefits you have been promised for believing in God, your devotion to spiritual practices that are supposed to make you feel closer to God, your dedication to doing and believing all the right things about God, your positive and negative evaluations of yourself as a believer in God, your tactics for manipulating God, and your sure cures for doubting God.

"All of these are substitutes for God, John says. They all get in God's way...God puts out our lights to keep us safe, John says, because we are never in more danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going. When we can no longer see the path we are on, when we can no longer read the maps we have brought with us or sense anything in the dark that might tell us where we are, then and only then are we vulnerable to God's protection..."

Taylor ends the chapter by saying that this kind of faith "will not offer me much to hold on to. It will not give me a safe place to settle. Practicing it will require me to celebrate the sacraments of defeat and loss...I think I can live inside this cloudy evening of the soul for a while longer, where even my sense of God's absence can be a token of God's presence if I let it..."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

God is Thinking About You Right Now as You Read This

J.I. Packer writes the following:

“What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it — the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me, and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment therefore, when His care falters.

“This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort — the sort of comfort that energizes — in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love, and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based...on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me. There is, certainly , great cause for humility in the thought that He sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow-men do not see, and that He sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself.

“There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, He wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realize this purpose.”

For this truth to have practical impact on our lives, it's important to actually embrace it, accept it and practice it; so my suggestion is to pause a few moments during your day (doing this regularly) to listen for the Father's affirmation of you and to agree with Him. One way of doing this is to take these words of J.I. Packer and turn them into a personal statement by God to you, saying something like this: "(Your name), what matters supremely is not the fact that you know Me but that I know you. You are engraved on the palms of My hands, and I never stop thinking about you; I'm thinking about you right now. You know Me because I knew you first and continue to know you. I know everything about you, the good, the bad and the ugly, and I still want you as My friend; I want this so much that I went to death to win you for Myself..., etc."