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Antigravity and Joy

earth beautiful 2Ever felt joy-less, depressed, overwhelmed, stressed out? (I think “Compassion Fatigue” is the new phrase.) Me too. Here’s how God unexpectedly dealt with all that, one dark night.

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This is a “non-sequitur” post, not specifically dealing with Spiritual Warfare, or Authority, and yet… somehow connected with those topics as I have been considering them. I have other things going on a bit, in terms of teaching or counseling, and a little bit ago I went through a bit of a personal “rough patch”. In fact, it was quite rough indeed. I don’t often share of my own frailties or struggles, except in terms of anecdotes or illustrations more or less long after the fact.

But I do have a few… accountability partners, close friends, brethren… call them what you will… close “family members” in this Kingdom Family with whom I am willing to be utterly transparent… generally because they’ve known me for so long, and seen all my warts and blemishes so clearly, that my own failures and slippages cannot possibly cause them shock or offense. I can also be so boldly honest because even when God grants some ridiculously undeserved grace to this pitiful servant, they know me far too well to mistake this for “merit” on my part.

This post is an email I sent to one of these “transparency brethren”. I shared this content with another one, and his response was, “Why don’t you put this up as a post on your blog?” I had a lot of excuses, but in the intervening days I’ve realized they were just that. So, in case you will be scandalized to know that I too can hit deep depths of “shadow attitudes” when my heart and emotions aren’t squared away with the Lord… don’t read any further. If God extending an utter miracle of grace, love and mercy to such a servant as I, tempts you to think (even in your wildest flight of imagination) that I am any more “worthy” than any other sinner-saved-by-grace on Earth… don’t read any further. There is nothing about me that “merits” the kindnesses of God that I experience. And there are none available to me, that are not showered upon every child He has.

But having said all that, and from the safety of my anonymity here on this site… I will open this to you, in a spirit of utter encouragement, worship, wonder, and gratitude that we share such a Father, Savior, and Spirit… who abound with such love and constant care.

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Antigravity and Joy

Hey there, [Pastor “X”[.

Happy Anniversary, Happy Birthday, Happy Summer, Happy VBS & Summer Camps and all the other cool stuff you’ve been into since last I darkened your doorway!

I have a profound “interior urging” to write you today about this… which I neither understand (apparently it’s not my business), nor for which will I apologize. If these words make sense to you, accept them with my blessings. If this makes no sense at all, well, just cast them aside… with my equal blessings.

I’m going to cut through all the “backstory”, (to which you are more than welcome, let me know if you want the context)... and start this in the middle.

10 days ago, I was in deep spiritual trouble… actually, I was rather drowning in “muck”… (you know the kind… we normally flush it). Too many days, too many people, too many surprises, too many disappointments… too many shadows and shadow creatures… and I had apparently picked up an “infection”. I was sick, heart sick, soul sick. Saying things like… “What’s the point? I’ve had enough of this. This isn’t worth it, Lord.” and THINKING, though not quite saying, “I’m done. Put a fork in me. I give up, I can’t do this anymore… Gonna do something different now.”

The amazing thing was that even in the worst of it, I could see “two me’s” in that “Pauline Schizophrenia” sense… (“the good that I would do… the evil that I would not do”)… Almost like an out-of-body (or out-of-soul) experience… I could see my “wrong self” (this one… this depressed… discouraged… give it all up… self)… at the very same time as I could see my “right self” standing in Jesus as He seemingly shrugged in confusion at my despondency, saying, “We don’t do what we do for ‘payoff’, what’s the problem? What’s any of that to Me and to you, Little Monk? We do what we do because it is what we do… because it is His will, His words, His works, not because we depend on people listening. We speak the words, and let His words work… some will hear, some will not, that’s not up to us.”

I KNEW that. I had conviction on that. I had scripture on that. My WILL was conformed to that. But my heart… my heart was sinking, I felt I was sinking in this sea of “muck” and I would soon drown. All I could do was resist, continue to tread water and hold on, and endure. But all that with the dwindling strength and resolve that heralds eventual inevitable defeat.

I prayed, studied, sang, pondered, read… all of that… seeking relief. None came. I knew I was in a bad place, a dark place, I rebuked… repented… sought Him… (though He never left, and I could feel/know that)… all of that. I expected Jesus (in His own good time) to “set me straight”. I had the sense of being “unclean”, of holding myself in a place and a mindset that was out of order, of entertaining and tolerating the company of shadow spirits with whom I had no business. Yet, try as I might, I could not rid myself of this.

Why am I telling you all of this? Just so that you embrace the absolute wonder, with which God dealt with the moment, and how utterly “counter-intuitive” it all seems to my “theological/religious” mind. I was, in those evenings… Jonah… with the singular exception of my “will”. My mood, psychology, sense of hope… all that… right there with Jonah… pitiful. The only difference, I sought that my will disappear into His will, regardless how ignoble my vessel at the moment.

At the very nadir of this “pathetic-ness” I was drained, exhausted, anxious… and yet unable to sleep well. Nonetheless, exhaustion took me in the early hours…

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And then God took me…

The modality of my subjective prayer experience is not important, so I’ll not waste the words trying to describe the ineffable symbologies with which He communes in my own consciousness. (I’m happy to share that, if you have interest… but I find everyone’s experiences of this kind are unique and different.)

But the Father took me. (Unusual, that).

He was utterly Light, Clean, Him… and He grasped me without hesitation. (Unexpected, that.)

He had lifted me onto His hand in my mucky, stinky, filthy, exhausted, depressed state without hesitation, and drew me into the Wonder of His Heart. (Inexpressible, that.)

I lay there, too weighed down and exhausted to move, almost panting for breath through the stench in which I was drowning, and as He drew us into His heart… ALL THAT was instantly and marvelously gone. I felt as if I had been being “Pressed”… an archaic form of capital punishment by adding one stone at a time on a board on one’s body, until the ribs are crushed by the weight and breathing is no longer possible… But then suddenly, in the blink of His eye, not only was all the weight gone, but He’d breathed helium into me instead. Instead of heaviness, there was affirmative lightness.

I was revived. I was hale, whole, strong. I stood up. It was wondrous.

A thought came to me… “Duty”, and I knew a twinge of sadness, knowing I needed to return. I had an important appointment coming.

He spoke, “No. Not yet. Tarry with Me a while.”

Delightedly I obeyed.

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The next now, I will only summarize, without any of the imagery or symbology of the experience… but…

I had a sense of wonder, as I knew I had entered here… “out of order”. I had been in a wrong place, wrong spirit, wrong attitude… and I am accustomed to “correction” in such times, “teaching” of where I was wrong, and reinforcement of what was right.

As this thought flashed across my mind… as I was simply experiencing waves of “Joy” pouring off from Him, out from Him, I felt a bit “guilty” about that. “Ashamed”, or “unworthy”… my faith, my resolution, my grace had been eroded to paper thin-ness when He grasped me.

His response? Just one word… “Irrelevant”

WHAT?

And He just continued to fill me with “Joy”.

Um… [Pastor “X”]? Stop just one moment and find the greatest joy in your heart. Maybe moments with [your spouse], or playing with your kids, or when you first held them… Maybe a moment with Jesus… or… All of that put together. Capture in your mind/memory that incredible rush of supernatural joy that just makes us laugh and cry at the same time, when we simply need to shout out, or maybe (if we’re not TOO Baptist… even… “dance” for a moment). Now just ramp all that up to the absolute red-line of the meter, and beyond…

And you have a sense of what those next seconds-minutes-hours (who knows) were like, as He held me in His heart. “Ecstasy” is a fancy theology word I’ve never been real happy with, but sometimes (like now), it actually fits.

Jesus came, and joined in. The Holy Spirit came, and joined in. And we all “rejoiced”… sang, danced, played, flew, um… nvm…

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Now here’s why I’m writing this… actually I’ll paste in this last section from my notes on this event…

But then, it wound down in “activity”, though not at all in “mood”. There we all were, the Four of us… as if sitting on a picnic blanket in sheer contentment on a warm Spring day. And yet… this was the midst of the Father’s heart, and the monk could look outwards and see with His eyes of sheer love.

Again… the word came… “Duty”… and the monk knew they had to return. But didn’t want  to… and yet did want to, if that was their duty. Yet even that thought didn’t bring sadness. It was as if the joy were a furnace of its own. There was the awareness that the monk didn’t want to go back, but there was no feeling of revulsion or resistance about it.

The Father spoke again… “It is time to return. You must go back.”

Little Monk said, “I know. And I shall, though You know I would rather stay.”

“I know, but it is not yet time. You can come, whenever you choose. But understand… THIS is REAL! THIS is what it is to be here, to be with ME, to let Me be Me in you. THIS is what I have ever intended for Life to be! No guilt. No grief. No darkness. No despair. None of that. All that is shadow-stuff… optical illusion generated by embracing the lies of those who want you separate from Me.

“I need you to go back, because I need you to keep telling them, keep showing them, keep loving them, that THIS is Me! They see it in you, at least some do. I need you to bring more Here… that I may play with them, sing to them, dance with them, and hug away their fears and shames. You will keep this Joy… it will protect you. And you need to share it there, with those who cannot see or feel it. When they are ready… bring them Here. Bring as many Here as you can, as soon as they are willing to trust that I desire only their Live, Wholeness, Good…

“You must go back, for so few know Me as “He who brings Life through Love”… so many fear Me instead… My Son will help. Our Spirit will reach through you… We need you to go back, Little Monk… though it will not be forever. And you can come here, rest, dance, renew, sing… whenever you need. I can protect you this way now. You have discovered this part of My Name… Joy.”

“Yes, Father.”

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And this has changed me a great deal.

What if the Father’s Name could be expressed, “Joy Who Gives Life Through Love”?

What if “in Jesus’ Name” wasn’t the “abracadabra” added on to the “white magic spells” of prayer according to the “white magic grimoire” of the Holy Bible… but rather what if Jesus’ Name were “God With Us” — the perfect reflection of God the Father, as Word Made Flesh and so able to enter in to our own spatio-temporal dimension?

What if the “Beatitudes” as expressed in Sermon on the Mount were better translated “Joyful are the poor… Joyful the meek…” etc.

What if Jesus intended the Church to be His Bride? And reasonably expected that that would fill us with Joy, not Dread?

If so, why are so many churches and churchmen filled with fear, and guilt, and shame, and dread? Why do so many spend so much time finger-pointing and accusing… when Accuser is the name of God’s enemy, not His Bride?

What if χαρά (chara) (as in “joy of your master” Matt 25:21) were inextricably linked with χάρις (charis) (as in “grace upon grace” Jn 1:16)? (oops… they ARE… we’re just not at all comfortable with that in English theology.)

What if “grace” and “gift” and “spiritual gifts” and all that… were ongoing expressions of the Father’s very PULSE as “Joy”… and humanity (and religion) simply shrink from the possibility?

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All these things have flowed through me for the past 10 days.

Don’t read me as denigrating or belittling speaking truth with grace, or conviction, or repentance, or regeneration. I think from “our side of the veil”, subject to the distortions and “glass darkly” of “original sin” and our subjectivity to temptation, error, and illusion… yes, those are all necessary tools.

BUT… I am now equally convicted and convinced, that those are tools and vehicles meant truly to get us “elsewhere”… that we come to KNOW Him in His preferred name… as Joy, and God of Hope.

There are few with whom I can share so “irreverent” a thought without causing offense. I trust I have not offended… I pray so. But I know you know this God, this God of Joy… for the very first time I ever heard you preach I was utterly stunned by a single line you intoned. You said,

“We don’t seek the Kingdom of God because it’s our duty. We seek the Kingdom because it is our JOY!”

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So, receive this email as encouragement, as a prayer request, as a praise of Him, as a testimony of sheer wonder…

But above all, THANK YOU for persisting in “lifting Him up that He may draw all men to Him”… and pointing consistently at the Joy of this Family and Kingdom, rather than threatening with the fear, guilt, and accusation of threats for ticking Him off.

Here’s what’s becoming one of my favorite verses:

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Blessings and grace to you and all yours!!

The Little Monk

 
19 Comments

Posted by on June 26, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds

 

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Spiritual Warfare: Authority Q & A Two

[This was contained in a comment by Susan Irene Fox to Spiritual Warfare: Authority, Part Deux. I bring this post to expand this discussion. Please feel free to enter in. Here is the response.]


 

“Because we have become God’s children by having been born again of the Spirit, we can truly call God “Father”. Our assurance of this is that the Spirit who indwells us testifies with our spirits that we are His. Because we are now His children, we are also His heirs, co-heirs with Christ; that is borne out by our willingness to suffer with Christ in this life.”


 

You have touched on an absolute truth, and I can illustrate with a very simple parallel. We call “spirits of darkness” that for a very good reason. Let me sum up a very long discussion and presentation simply saying… “Imagine, if you will, that such entities are actually composed of ‘shadow’.” Stop just one moment and get a firm grip on those words in your mind’s eye.

Now… when one such entity steps into a “spotlight”, what HAS to happen?

Not just “what happens?”, but what logically, necessarily, HAS to happen?…… *POOF!*… Right?

Well, theologically, we talk about all these different descriptive systems for dealing with God and spiritual things… one of which is called the “Light Metaphysic”. John, the Apostle, really made use of this trying to describe various aspects of Jesus, of God, and of relationship with Him. (“God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” or “The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness knew it not.” etc.)

But it’s a terrific imagery, way of trying to describe reality, with regard to spiritual warfare. Demons and unclean spirits were distinctly “uncomfortable” in Jesus’ presence. He is/was Light Himself. His very presence and nature threatened their ability to cloak themselves in any form at all. When He encountered a person who needed healing or deliverance, dark spirits wanted to be separated from Him… either that He would go away, or that He would send them away (e.g. into swine). For Him to be present with them, too close, was for them to experience “torment” (are You here to torment us before our time?).

Well, one reason I posted “How much Holy Spirit do you have?” before getting into the current discussion, is that that reality has never changed. Dark spirits are “uncomfortable” (lol, what a wimpy word… but I’ll stay with it)… in the Immediate Presence of Christ. And EVERY Indwelt believer carries in him/her the Immediate Presence of Christ.

Well then, does that mean we cannot be approached, assailed, or even inhabited by any spirit of darkness? No, not exactly. Our free will gives us the option of allowing ingress into what I call “our shadowy corners”… our own wrong attitudes, our own areas for future growth, our own habitual weaknesses, biases, judgmentalisms, unkindnesses… all those areas where from time to time the Lord grows us through rebuke, conviction, repentance and transformation… sort of like “damp spots” in the foundation, walls, floors or crawlspaces of our house where mold can grow undisturbed. We can “host” shadow-infection, just as our bodies can host illnesses… without being consciously aware of it. And the impact of such infection can be more or less serious depending on extent, duration, and how central is the function to our lives.

A Christian need not be “shadow free” to be Christian, but the extent to which he/she consciously embraces and allows transformation of light affects both the “opportunities” for shadows lurking, along with quality of life… Peace, Joy, Humor, Love, Generosity, Satisfaction, etc. Just as a human being need not be “infection free” to be Alive, but the extent of robust health, immune system function, nutrition and wellness certainly affects both the extent of compromise to infection, and the overall quality of life.

Very solid parallel that.

So it’s hard for me to discuss such things without seeming to foster an attitude of “nonchalant indifference”… “Oh well, everybody deals with this all the time, so… no big deal… forget about it.” Or, alternatively, an attitude of hypervigilant terror… “Omigosh, you mean… they’re… they’re… EVERYWHERE? *I* deal with them? My church, my pastor, my spouse, my kids??? What do I do? What do I DO??” And prompt a rapid shopping trip for unguents, candles, incense, oil, tracts, and Christian Books… oh, and miles of bubble wrap with duct tape.

For years I’ve lived quietly, yielding to my caution not to prompt either response.

But a more balanced position is simply this…

Just as physically we live in a world populated with myriads of creatures we cannot see or detect, some of which we interact with, and can harm us… Just as we deal with that reality through simple hygiene, care of our constitutions and health of lifestyle (food, clothing, shelter, hydration, nutrition)… Just as we help one another keep healthy, and offer an aspirin to a friend with a headache… Just as we seek professional expert health care interventions when an illness interferes too profoundly with our activities of daily life, or when infection places others at risk… All that, without panic or arrogance…

So I hope we can look at Spiritual Warfare. We live in a world inhabited by others as well, some of whom mean us harm. There’s fundamental spiritual health, there’s hygiene, there’s mutual support, and there’s acute care. None of that should generate either panic or arrogance.

All I seek to do here is offer “wellness education” for Christendom at large, and issue invitation to those with a call to providing acute care for those in need, to seek out and pursue further education as caregivers.

 

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Spiritual Warfare: Authority Q & A One

“I drift back and forth between the stages, praying continually for wisdom and maturity, and to know Him and love more deeply each day.”

[This was contained in a comment by Susan Irene Fox to Spiritual Warfare: Authority, Part Deux. I bring this post to expand this discussion. Please feel free to enter in. Here is the response.]

That is absolutely so! As do I. As do the finest, most grace-filled and wise teachers I know and have ever known! Yes! To all of that. Nonetheless, like anything and everything about our love-based, faith-filled relationship with God… as we experience more and more, as we “realize” (make “real” to ourselves) more and more experiences, that they become “concrete history” and “memories” rather than abstract theoreticals, hypotheticals, aspirations, and hopes… We tend to “anchor ourselves” in “reality as we know it”. We can still experience temptation, entertain doubts, find our faith shaken… we can succumb to a mood of darkness, bitterness, discouragement…. I for one (and all my rowdy friends) experience all these same things.

BUT, sometimes it feels like I’m attached to an elastic band… like a horizontal bungee cord. I can “go off on a mood” with the best of them. (I’m particularly prone to pride, and an odd sort of arrogant anger… judgmentalism. When the enemy can get just the right dart into my heart from just the right angle, and push just the right button… BOOM! Off I’ll go, ranting like a sailor!) Now, do I KNOW better? Yup. Does the Holy Spirit not tap me on the shoulder, clear His throat, and speak perfectly clearly… “Little Monk? Before you launch, does ANY of this speak ‘Jesus’ style’ to you? Or are you just rocking on your hobby horse again?” Yup. But if I am enraptured enough by my little moment of adrenalin-intoxication, glassy eyed… then I’m likely to hold up one finger, say, “One second, Lord, I’m busy in the middle of a tantrum here… be right with You!” and move right along my merry way.

I sprint against the tension of my bungee cord, plunging headlong from the center of my “God’s Will Road”… and wind up off somewhere in the scrub. I’ll be all scratched up and scruffy looking, and when the chemical euphoria wears off, it’s like I shake my head and say, “How’d I get here?” Then I remember and it’s like.. “Oh yeah. That.”

But here’s the really cool part for me and “most of my rowdy friends”. Having figured out a while back that we were nothing more (or less) than “His kids”… that we are and were utterly incapable of “managing our own spiritual lives”, but that when we relax utterly and let Him do what He does, He manages them (us) perfectly… we quit trying. Rather than trying to focus on “what do we do next”, we focus(ed) just on HEARING HIM tell us what to do next. It changes from our eyes constantly scanning the horizon and choosing among a million options, to our eyes focused on Him, His feet, His hands, and where He points us. (Much narrower focus.. MUCH easier to handle).

So, finding ourselves out in the scrub, tore up… we don’t “trudge back to the center line”… or even “turn around and repent”… or even “run don’t walk”… or “walk”. None of that. We just “stop… and relax”. The Bungee Cord brings us home Himself. We (and by this I mean ALL… you, me, my rowdy friends, everyone) are ALREADY anchored at the center line. Jesus did that at the Cross, He fastened and sealed these cords with Indwelling. The Holy Spirit IS the Bungee Cord. When we just quit pulling AGAINST it, whether by intention or ignorance… then HE HIMSELF restores everything to “right”.

The Bungee Cord pulls us back home to safety and light. Jesus washes the grunge off us. He re-robes us in His own clothes… and we take one another’s hands and move on down the road, often discussing what we’d learned from our little foray into the wilderness scrub. Now, Jesus, walking alongside us, had remained alongside us the whole time, you understand. Even when we run off in an adrenalin-drunk He never leaves us or forsakes us… (He promised that in writing, so you can count on its being true….) so when we tear off into awful places we just drag Him along. We’re just so focused on the wrong things, the distractions, that we don’t see or pay attention to His presence. But He’s ALWAYS present!

We can always trust the Bungee Cord. We can always trust Jesus alongside us. And we can always trust to the Center Line. But lots of folks, even wondrous sincere believer folks… have grown up thinking they’re all on their own to traverse this terrain (life, life in the world, life through the darkness to a blessed redeemed heavenly condition after they die). It’s all hack and slash, sweaty machete work, or dangerous dozer work to pave the way, brave the elements and the dangers, all to “atone” for past follies, or “show themselves worthy”, or “pass the test of their faith”, or simply because…. “Well, a Just and Holy God couldn’t just make it EASY, could He? After all, He’s Righteous and all that! Ridiculous! We must prevail! We must suffer! We must endure! We must show ourselves worthy of His love and win the race!” And it breaks my heart as they work so HARD to “get it all right”! (As I used to.)

Nonsense! NOTHING we do, endure, suffer or prevail against “makes us worthy”! Let that go! That’s pride! It “looks” like humility, but it’s arrogance… the exact opposite. It’s the lie that says, “If I work hard enough, I won’t NEED Jesus alone to merit God and His presence… I won’t NEED grace, if I can accomplish by work!” Nonsense!

And once THIS one is put away, the rest falls into place as you look and listen to what Jesus truly said and taught. He’s THERE. The Spirit is here and seals. We have inheritance, position, power, authority, place. We actually have to affirmatively work AGAINST grace… which we do easily, once our pride or passions are pricked properly… to pull ourselves OUT of His management and its benefits. He is, ever, inside of us. (In fact, as a little aside of “Wow” to how the Father manages things… even when we rebelliously run out into the scrub (where we don’t belong)… we nonetheless bring Jesus WITH us… thus bringing Light into dark places. Now, we’re likely to get a bit battered and bruised in the process, which Daddy never wanted… but still, we’ll be “vessel for Light”, even in our wrongness. Isn’t that something?)

Now, when we “relax” and let the Bungee bring us home from wrong places… we’ll often see the intervening terrain flying by, review in our minds/hearts/memories the decisions and moods we were in as we plunged through here, and feel embarrassed and regretful of that. True. We learn from such moments, and that’s a good thing. But THAT… those moments of “Gosh, what was I thinking?! THAT was pretty dumb of me!” THOSE realizations, are “light entering the dark corners” of our soul and the discomfort of blinking in the unaccustomed brightness. THAT is the essence of true “repentance” or “metanoia” (to “see in a new/beyond way” truthfully), and those moments of epiphany and insight change us permanently. Those are moments in which we grow, we mature, because we learn to “trust” just a little more completely, to “yield” a little more readily.

But yes… we are ALL but children in, to, and of God. And I, for one, certainly have my “bratty” days, just as well as anyone.

 

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Spiritual Warfare: Authority, Part Deux

In an earlier post on Spiritual Authority, I leapt over a huge amount of narrative and explanation because I wanted to avoid a convoluted discussion into which I am easily sidetracked and swallowed up. But I knew, even as I posted that, that I would need to follow up with some more concrete discussion. A few of the comments reinforced that.

So I’d like to sit back a moment and, without letting this get too tangled up, just look at one way of considering the whole matter of “Authority” as a whole. I want to consider our general, human, normal, relational experiences of authority… and then, from that perspective, look at the divine. I’m not trying to limit God to a human template, but I feel confident that especially in matters such as this, our social nature made in His image, and frequent scriptural referents and instructions on the conduct of such fundamental relationships as parenthood and marriage, along with the profound use Jesus Himself made of these two relationships, validates this discussion. As ever, though, if these words do not ring true as the Spirit guides your heart or conscience, cast them aside.

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First of all, what is “Authority” anyway? Well, we can look it up in the dictionary of course, but in general I teach that it is the “ability and right to impose one’s will onto and over the will of another.” The idea of “authority” has no meaning without the idea of “will”. Authority is only an issue where there is choice, or the possibility of a contrary action or thought.

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OK, so let’s consider our human experience on Jesus’ illustrations for a moment. How do we see “Authority” as relating to these two critical human relationships — parenthood, and to marriage?

I propose that we can see human development, relational development, the development of relationships in four distinct stages:


First: Childhood Stage. In the first seven or so years of life, children cannot provide for themselves, protect themselves from danger, or make considered judgments of prudent action based on experience, reasoning or wisdom. Even the legal system does not yet consider them responsible for their own actions or consequences. The parent(s) hold responsibility for all that.

Parent(s) exercise authority over their children, being responsible for them and their actions, and for their well-being and upbringing. When the will of a child differs from the will of their parent(s), the child is expected (scripturally, morally, and legally) to honor their parent(s) and obey. That is their will is to yield to the parent, and penalty or punishment is a reasonable expectation for defiance of that authority.

Children’s initial experience of “authority”, then… (and thus, the experience all of us share)… is based in “Fear”. Children (all of us), initially learn to yield to authority by being programmed with a fear of punishment.

Four scriptural verses address the “beginning of wisdom”, and all of those associate it with knowledge or understanding. Three of those four, associate “fear” or “fear of the Lord” as well. That is, “fear” may be seen as a legitimate BEGINNING point, but that’s all it is… the beginnings of an infant or child, whose knowledge and understanding is only beginning, not yet matured. (Cf Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 4:7; Proverbs 9:10.


Second: Transactional Stage. When a youngster is “too big” for physical pain or superior size to generate fear to enforce authority in a conflict of will, and (on a more positive note) when communication and reasoning skills have improved, resolution is more likely to come from “bargaining” or “transaction” rather than “threat”.

While this is easy to relate to when we think of dealing with adolescence (or remember being one), it is important to note that this same approach to authority persists well into early vocational and professional maturity as well.

A parent or a boss CAN enforce their will in a conflict by using authority to threaten or generate costly punishment, generating fear. But it is more likely, before reaching such a pass, that a system of incentives and “earned privileges” is in place  That is, there is reasoned dialogue and negotiation, setting up a mutually beneficial transaction.

“If you yield and submit to my will, then these benefits will ensue. If you do not, then those benefits will not result, or these detriments will ensue.”

Like… Parent to Teen: “If you do your chores and keep your grades up, you may access our computers, game systems, and drive the car on Friday night. But if you defy me(us) or you fail in school, you will lose your privilege of playing in sports, or your curfew will be lowered.”

Or… Boss to Subordinate: “If you perform your duties well, dress appropriately, report to work on time, and follow my instructions, you will get good job performance evaluation reviews, a steady progress of pay increase and promotion. But if you do not follow instructions, perform according to my expectations, or execute company policy and procedure, you will receive a verbal warning, a written warning, and then be terminated from our employment.”

Both of these expressions and exercise of authority are “Transactional”, a “trade” based on the child (or subordinate) wanting to acquire something of value (whether liberty and privileges, or professional earnings and prestige)… in exchange for their compliance with the will of the superior.

We see this type of authority expressed a number of times in scripture, but perhaps the clearest of such expressions as God trains His children is

If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place. [2 Chronicles 7:13-15]

Here we see this very clear “carrot-and-stick” transaction of authority and obedience, very much as we (as parents) could imagine ourselves dealing with our developing teen, or an employer dealing with a new employee.


Three: Exploration and Honeymoon Stage. Let’s change gears, change generations here for a moment. Let’s move from the “Parental” paradigm to the “Sweetheart” stage of intimate relationships. (Bear in mind, this really has no gender significance, particularly. There are no erotic overtones here. Jesus used a marriage and wedding illustration often as He considered growing intimacy and commitment between Himself and us.)

Authority, as the imposition or subordination of will, becomes very interesting when “opposition” is no longer an issue. If you have ever been married (as I suspect most of Jesus’ listeners had been), it is not hard to remember or relate to a time when a committed relationship had been formed, but partners were yet coming to know and understand one another.

Here again, “fear” becomes a factor… but it is not a matter of “fear of punishment”. When one is committed to the happiness and well-being of the other, but does not yet KNOW them through and through completely, then there is effort made not to do something that causes the other (the beloved) discomfort or displeasure.

Early years of a marriage of partners in love, or early years of a professional who loves and is deeply committed to his/her company or employer, doesn’t see a lot of overt “exercise of authority” between the superior and the subordinate. Rather, one seeks to consciously align the will of the self with the will of the other in order not to displease him/her. When there is anxiety over a decision, it is based on “not doing the wrong thing”, “not making a mistake”… but not out of fear of consequence in punishment, rather out of “fear of displeasing the valued other” (whether the partner or work colleague).

This is a “functional” stage. Many long term marriages never progress beyond this stage. Many career employees stay in this perspective all the way to retirement. And it has been my observation that a vast number of Believers attain this degree of intimacy with the Lord, and never ever get past it. Such people are adult enough to get beyond a fear of childish punishment, loving enough to get beyond bargaining and negotiation for advantage, and are deeply committed to the happiness of the significant other. But what “constrains them”, what exerts “authority over them”, is the fear of causing the significant other displeasure… of “hurting their feelings”.

I remember, when I was young, being told that “every time I sin, I add to the scourging of Jesus”. The thought horrified me. I vehemently sought to reject sin in all forms… “not to hurt His feelings”, and despised myself and my own frailty when I failed in my efforts. Only VERY recently, did I finally come to understand the Truth… that He has always known, and embraced me WITH all my frailties. I finally could embrace an instruction, a correction, I must have been given 100 times when I was an intern under a very wise mentor/boss/pastor who repeated over and over… “Little Monk! God is not NEARLY so concerned with your getting it all RIGHT! As He is concerned that you learn to relax, and simply enjoy His love!” (That made no sense to me… I could not grasp that… couldn’t embrace it. Decades it took, before Jesus Himself finally helped me see the truth of it.)

I present Stage Three to you with NO disrespect whatever! I lingered there for more years than I will admit. It is often marked with a tremendous sense of “rules and regulations”, of “do’s and don’ts” lest we displease Him. It is not BAD. But it is not yet complete. It contains fear, it contains shame, it contains a degree of mistrust for our total safety in Him. It is adult, yes… but not yet fully matured.

We want to unify our wills with God’s, but we haven’t yet learned and practiced the relaxed surrender of conscience to the Holy Spirit, so we cling fearfully to our “religious report cards” and “Do/Don’t” Lists. Paul seems to address this…

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? [Colossians 2:20-22]


Four: Unitive Stage. Harmony. Here is a fascinating stage of “Authority” where the word itself seems to disappear. Why? Because the exercise of authority only emerges when there is a conflict of will between two parties, and when relationship is close enough, intimate enough that one party knows exactly what is pleasing to the other… and when the love and commitment is so strong that the desire of each is to create, to generate, pleasure on the part of the other… there is only harmony.

I described this to a friend the other day as, “remember the early stages of marriage, where we worked so hard to learn, to realize, what pleased and displeased our partner? We were more concerned not to inadvertently hurt their feelings, than anything else. And that was good. BUT, let a few decades of ongoing love, commitment and intimacy go by, and we learn them… we know their will… we know what pleases or displeases. And when you look at one of those incredible, grace-filled, beautiful marriages of half a century or so… when the partners are still as in love (or more so) than when they first met… there is no more fear. Each partner lives with the simple goal of pleasing the other, of making him/her smile. They look for little ways to surprise or delight the other. THAT’s the mature state of love… no more fear, simply the enterprise of walking pleasing to the other, because that is what is most pleasing to the self.”

I have seen this in this life. Haven’t you? Here is the living out of the intimacy of Jesus and the Father… all through John 13-17. Jesus only does His will, does His works, speaks His words. Why? Because the Father has “Authority”, and requires this of Jesus? NO! Because this is the JOY of Jesus, He is so intimately One with the Father that to see Him, He says, IS to SEE the Father!

“Well!” one might respond… “That’s all well and good for GOD! But what about US! This can’t possibly be something WE can aspire to, or live in! Where’s your humility!?” But see… Jesus disagrees.

Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” [John 17:1-3]

That’s US He’s talking about, Gentle Reader. You, and me, and him, and her… right here, right now, just as we are… “that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” And that word “know” there… is “intimate know”… as in biblically knowing… all the way through.

So many shy away from this thought. “Too intimate”, “too close”, “not reverent enough”, “need more distance”, “He’s too holy”, “He’s too scary”… so strange. Some paint this incredible revelation of grace and available relationship as some sort of cheap grace or feel-good message. Well, grace it assuredly is, but not the least bit cheap… It cost Jesus’ life to provide. Is it “feel good”? Well, I certainly hope so! The JOY of the Lord is to be our strength, not some sort of “no pain, no gain” hubris. The Gospel is GOOD News, and the churchy-folk leaders of His time killed Him for preaching it.


Here is the challenge God issues to my own life, and I pass it along for whatever use you choose to make of it. Embrace it, or cast it aside as the Holy Spirit leads you in your life and conscience.

“Do you want to love God with all your heart, mind and strength? Do you want to love others as Jesus loves?

“Then you have to mature beyond fear. We cannot…. CAN NOT… fully love what we do not fully trust. We can never feel truly and utterly “safe” with what we cannot trust without condition or flinching. And we cannot utterly trust, anything or anyone, we fear.”

Simple truth that. Obvious and self-apparent. The Apostle John got this utterly. He wrote the Gospels that most clearly documented the Lord’s teachings on all this. Ultimately, he left these words in legacy to the generations of his churches as he sensed the end of his own earthly life drawing near….

Consider this, and see if it does not summarize all I am saying here of “authority”, “harmony of will”, and our loving relationship with God…

By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. [1 John 4:17-19]


Bottom Line: “Authority” only has meaning when there is a conflict of wills. As to Spiritual Warfare, there is always a conflict of wills between unclean spirits and the will of Our Loving Father, Our Lord, and His Spirit. God has invested the fullness of His authority in and to us, by virtue of our Love of Christ and belief that the Father sent Him forth. That authority can and does flow through us unimpeded when our will aligns in faith with His.

But BEYOND that is the richer truth of “authority” and OUR relationship with God. Union, the union of will, love, knowledge of Him… complete with His words, works, and will… is not only our EVENTUAL destiny “up there, out there, somewhere…. in heaven… after we’re dead”…. but rather it is the living, here and now, process we are going through and intended to fulfill in all its richness, as we learn simply to trust Him to do what only He can do in and through us. How?

Paulfg says it the most directly of anyone I know…

“The answer is love. Now, what is the question?”

I hope this is some help on the whole issue of “Authority” and God.

Grace to thee, Gentle Reader.

The Little Monk

 

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Spiritual Warfare: The Foundation

holy spirit“Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.’” [Luke 24:45-49]

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Thank you, to all Gentle Readers who have responded to the first post, the initial thoughts and questions I proffered, on Spiritual Warfare. Reading prayerfully through all the contributions, I see a couple more steps ahead. It is my hope to cast some light on significant pieces of value to ALL Christians, particularly in areas where we have little contention over interpretations or techniques, and see how far we can get in practical application without generating any discord.

We have just passed Pentecost Sunday. We have celebrated Jesus’ fulfillment of a tremendous promise…

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also.  In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you... These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” [John 14:16-20, 25-27]

O Gentle Reader… my heart becomes so full at such passages… there is such a movement within to speak, to sing, to praise, to worship… to fill this space with words of wonder, grace and love… for Him, for you, for all that is…

But none of that is necessary, or… in THIS moment… edifying. THIS, this Truth, is the foundational, fundamental grounding of our entire Christian lives, made possible through the Birth, Death, and Rising of the Anointed Jesus. Here is the taproot of our life, our abundant life. Here is the connection to the Lover, the Beloved, through this Spirit of Love. And here, in this present context, is our capacity to serve our God of Light and minister to others in need, even in a world populated in part by creatures of shadow and servants of darkness.

So, very simply, very quietly… before discussing anything else on this, I want to ask:

Are you indwelt of the Holy Spirit? Have you and Jesus embraced one another and entered into the state of Him in you, you in Him, together in the Father?

If so… then… How Much Holy Spirit dwells within you? A little, a fair amount, some, a lot, a whole lot? Have you been allocated a quota of “Holy Spirit” for your own life? Like some have more than you, or less than you?

Look at these verses, look over the report of the Pentecost in first chapters of Acts, and ask yourself, “CAN God be divided? Can He give ‘less than All of Himself’? Is that even conceivable?”

Ask yourself, in that you are in Him, and He in you, and together ye are in the Father, what are the implications of that? What authority do you bear? What power dwells within you, your voice, your hands, your fingertips?

Do you have just “some”? Do you have just “a little”? Do you have just “enough”?

A friend preached a short time ago, using the Gospel of John’s text on the Wedding Feast at Cana. I started this post yesterday, but could not finish it… I knew I needed to wait a bit. Today, I heard this sermon and I knew immediately, that this 32-minute sermon needs to be part of this post. I strongly encourage you to listen and follow this link… (Be aware it is a “Senior Sunday” sermon, but bears only a little bit on “seniors” per se.) The main idea of this entire message revolves around “sufficiency” or “adequacy” of Jesus’ provision.

The Love of Christ

May all these words bless you. Please feel free to respond, reflect, comment, disagree, or engage in this dialogue in whatever manner suits!

Blessings and grace to thee!

The Little Monk

 

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Splinters to Petals

elk againOnce upon a time, I had a house in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.) with some acreage in front, and a half mile driveway. The house was just a little ways uphill from a river, a lovely… mountain… river. You know the kind, made of melted glacier water that never rises much above 2 degrees above freezing? (My daughter “taught our dog to swim” there. How? By standing on the bank and throwing her in… repeatedly. Daughter claims dog loved it. Dog never said a thing about it… Daughter only told me years later. But anyway…)

So… every winter, I had “Elk”. (Sounds like some sort of rash, put that way, dunnit?) This is to say that a herd of about 60 elk would meander up and down the river, across my patch, every three days or so all winter long. That sounds lovely, until you are trying to drive your car up your driveway at 10 p.m. after a 16-or-so-hour workday, and you have to stop, flash your lights, honk your horn, and try to motivate sleepy, settled in, supine elk off the gravel onto the verge… hoping the bulls surrounding the cows surrounding the calves don’t label you a “threat” and charge your car and tyres with their antlers… their nasty, pointy, antlers.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So… OK, Little Monk, does this have anything AT ALL to do with anything we normally talk about?

Sorry, going on…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Well, one spring, my family planted a series of rose bushes along the driveway verge up where the house and drive roundabout led onto the gravel stretch to the road. Little bushes (18 to 24 inches high)… we read the instructions… we dug holes 24 or so inches deep. We had the potting soil, the root-nutrient-stuff, the rose-nutrient-stuff, the water hose… We had EVERYTHING to plant whizz bang rose bushes, in order to yield a bumper crop of whizz bang roses.

And we had FRIENDS. My daughter had invited some of her school chums to come over that day to “dig holes” and roast weiners in the back yard, play music I didn’t get, and generally enjoy the day, the yard (garden), the river, and the expert-swimming dog. It was a fun day. And there was a funny moment in it…

One of her friends had been permitted, after much begging, to dig the hole for the last rose bush at the end of the line. (And she really DID beg, I’m not kidding.) We looked up to check on her progress, and gasped to find her waist deep in a pit she had obviously mistaken for the beginnings of either a gold mine or a Journey to the Center of the Earth. In the short time she had been left unattended, my daughter’s friend had dug this “rose bush hole” deeper than 3 feet and easily 24 inches around. We stopped her, lifted her out of her pit, and asked (laughingly) what she was doing?

She responded that she just loved to dig holes, that she’d begged because she wasn’t allowed to dig holes at her own home, and that she wasn’t allowed because her parents didn’t like the holes she dug since they were too big and too deep. (Ah! The tale emerges…)

So… we thanked her for all her efforts, told her we were just digging the hole to loosen the soil for the rose’s roots, we weren’t planning to bury it… and now we needed to fill most of it back up. Anyway, all the bushes got planted, but I worried that this one on the end… the one with the hole twice as deep as it should have been… would be at some disadvantage compared to the others… the “properly done” others. But, time would tell…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Well, time DID tell, as that end bush went absolute hog wild. It grew 2 or 3 times faster than any other bush. It yielded easily 3 times as many roses. The rose border were “creeping” variety, that I intended to support into a living rose “fence”, and this bush was simply astonishing in its growth and beauty. Wonderful!

Now, come winter, rose bushes are supposed to be “pruned”. Purists will tell you to cut them back to the main stalk and stem… remove all the little dependent tributaries and leave just the central stalk.

Well, that always seemed “cruel” to me, so I wouldn’t do it. I would nip off the small, weak twiglets… but I left a rather “bushlike” semblance of the plant to stand through the winter. Each spring I got a very adequate growth of roses, though my “wildly ambitious” bush at the front managed to settle down across the years to a more reasonable yield.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But then, came the elk…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One year, we had a very hard winter. Lots of snow, lots of ice, lots of frozen… not much greenery. Fall had ended early, spring began late, and wildlife had to hustle to make it through. That winter we saw more cougar tracks across the yard than usual, and we kept the dog in more than we normally did. The elk were with us more frequently than usual that winter… like every other day, rather than every 3 days.

And then it happened! (*insert dramatic organ chord here*)…

I drove in one evening, and my headlights flashed through the place my special rosebush should have been… and it WASN’T THERE! I stopped the car, right there in the cold, and the snow, and the elk… and everything! I was angry! My BUSH was GONE!

I had grabbed my flashlight (you always carry a flashlight, in fact a spotlight, in your car when you have to navigate elk herds on a regular basis in the nighttime) (betcha didn’t know that, didja? See what tidbits you can pick up here?) Anyway, I could see masses of hoofprints all over the snow here, and they led up along to the rose bushes… closer to the house than the elk had ever come before… and they had EATEN my ROSES! All that remained were some pitiful little gnawed, splintered, stubs… poking up out of the snow!

I was FURIOUS! My ROSES! Those mangy, hairy, overgrown antlered beasts had assaulted my ROSES! (It had been a long day, folks.) Anyway, I went on inside, cursing elk from now til kingdom come, and grieving my ex-rosebushes. Winter eventually gave way to spring.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That spring, planning and budgeting to replace these rose-corpses, rather than expand the line of border, the most astonishing thing happened…

They resurrected. That is to say, they grew. But they not only grew, they GREW! They Exploded! The gnawed, splintered little stubs burst forth with new growth the like of which I had never imagined! As if struck by some alien life-ray, they burst forth sooner, stronger, more fruitful, more beautiful, than they had ever been or I had ever dreamed possible…

Over time, I realized… “pruning”. The Elk had “pruned” the rose bushes. They had done what I, in my misplaced compassion and personal judgment, could not. They severely cut back all the dead and unnecessary wastage on these plants, leaving them only with their vibrant central heart… and when the time and conditions were right… life burst forth in beautiful expression.

I forgave the Elk. I thanked the Elk.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Today, Paulfg posted “Your relationship with me,” and discusses “pruning” as he looked at John 15:1-8.

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. John 15:1-8

It made me think of my elk and my roses.

And “become my disciples” made me think of…

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” [John 13:34-35]

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My rose bushes flourished because they were “pruned”. They “gave themselves away” to “feed the elk”. I’m not saying the roses MEANT to do that… but it’s just what happened. The elk ATE, CONSUMED the rose creatures, and so the rose creatures flourished.

Jesus says we are to “love” without recompense. We are to love as HE loves, without regard for whether He, or we, get love back in return. We are to give ourselves away. Unless we eat His body and drink His blood… We are to offer our bodies a living and holy sacrifice…

Here’s a great, and yet tremendously joyful, mystery, Gentle Reader.

We bear the more fruit, the more richly we are given away. The Father becomes the more Radiant as we bear the more fruit, as we benefit from the explosion of Life within us, Him within us… as we give ourselves away and become the more disciple, We show ourselves to be disciples, we are recognized (by others) to be disciples, by the quantity and quality of our love, as we love others.

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Bah! Sometimes words so seem to get in my way… But it’s all “connections”, it’s all “relationship”, it’s all “Love”.

The more of Him we “give away” to others (the more light we “refract”)… the stronger our connection with Him becomes. The more secure and solid it becomes. Because the “mystery” part is that, like electricity, the “power” can only exist “in motion”, not in a static state.

Even elk and bushes, on some creation-fundamental level, realize this.

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God doesn’t “prune” because He’s “mean”, or because “it will hurt”, or even to cut away the useless and dead. God “prunes” only when He MUST, to stimulate growth. When we willingly “give ourselves away”… when we love freely… when we embrace one another… when we “do the works of the Father” and work His will… just loving and encouraging one another without malice, selfishness, judgment, arrogance… then we lose ourselves and our egos in Him and in one another, and there’s little left for Him to cut away.

It’s just all so wondrous! He is ever about revealing Himself in what I suspect is His Favorite Name… Even elk and bushes get it… Our Father, the Giver of Life through Love! His favorite thing…

 
 

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50 Shades of Meat

roman-templePaulfg has just posted an excellent reflection (“More godly than God Soft Hands Jesus”) on a lot of the commentary surrounding the movie/book “50 Shades of Gray”, and the oft-heard Christian echoes of “do not watch the film, do not let this filth enter your eyes, I have not watched it, I never will, and you shouldn’t either.”

Paul rightly points out these scriptures:

”Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Mark 7:15

”What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:11

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For me to say “I agree”, would be comically pretentious. Not only do I agree, but for more years than I could count I agreed SO much that I would judge and ridicule many Christians with principles more conservative than my own. I have NO sense that Paulfg is doing this, and I don’t want to be read that way. I only see Paul as confronting a rightly wrong thing… what I call “bubble wrap Christians”, who seem to believe that if you can keep “evil” from coming in through the eyes, ears, or touch… you can keep it out of your universe. (Would that were so!)

I have more than a few friends who keep their radios and TV’s tuned to nothing but “Christian” programming…. not so much because they truly ENJOY that programming, but rather because they are afraid of seeing or hearing anything else. They subscribe primarily to the “Three Monkeys” interpretation of the Gospel, apparently believing they can insulate their hearts from darkness or shadow.

And I used to “judge” them. Even if I did not do so in words, in my heart I would “ridicule” them. Paulfg does not. But I did… Can you relate? I hope not, but I think most of us have or do at some time or another. Whether we think eating fish on fridays, or praying the rosary is “quaint”… or that saying grace before meals in public is “showing off”… or that carrying a big print Bible to church in these days of iPads and electronic tablets is exhibitionist… or that abstinence from alcohol is contrary to Scripture, or the reverse… I have struggled for years with the challenge of not judging the piety or devotion of others by my own standards.

Ironic, is it not?

This is the nature of the critique of those who advise all others “not to see this movie”, and judge/condemn those who do… at the very same time that I, for one, am tempted advise all others “not to listen to these critics”, and judge/condemn them and those who do.

Um… it seemed like for years I could not find the “center line”, the “balance point” between “not judging” people for their taste in reading, drama, or art… and judging those who did! Given my own worldview, I almost constantly struggled with this frustration. My Jesuit Dad was the world’s best at attaining this balance, and he had a saying. “I have unboundedly liberal principles, that lead almost unerringly to conservative conclusions.” And that was true. There were no unaskable questions, no unspeakable thoughts, no irreverent propositions… God, when left free to consider all possibilities and propositions, always leads back to Scripturally consistent outcomes.

OK… now I want to share a “how” thing… not so much a “what” or “why”, but a “how?”… but I don’t want to come off as “having my act entirely together” on this, with some tone of “spiritual superiority”. You are more than welcome… invited even… to pray for my ongoing “reformation” in this area. Over years, as I struggled with my own judgmentalism, God would lead me to the same Scriptural place… every… single… time…

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his ownmaster he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” [Romans 14:1-4]

Going on…

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” [Romans 14:13-17]

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So here’s the thing… here’s my problem…

When people whose conscience convicts them that it is “sin” to watch a given movie, and they go watch it anyway, that is out of order.  OK, fine so far. BUT, when they tell OTHER people who do not share their convictions, that watching that movie is “sin”, because of THEIR convictions… that’s just as wrong.

And, of course, when *I* judge… whether for watching, not watching, advising to watch or not, or refraining because of these criticisms and commentaries… *I* am just as out of order as any of it!

It’s like being stuck on some horrible mess of fly paper. Every way you turn or twist, you just keep getting caught and gummed up. I was left “twisting” this way for years.

Finally, only a fairly short while ago, (and written up in this blog in a reflection on drosophila), I got this sorted…

The “trick” to this is… follow one’s own conscience, realizing that God deals with us each in our own appropriate way. “Share” about those reflections freely, as the spirit moves one, for the encouragement or edification of others… But only in the encouragement of “obedience to one’s own template”, NOT for the imposition of one’s own template onto the lives of others.

It takes no special training or theological sophistication to know the sense of “violating one’s conscience” or “being wrong”. Little children get this one down fairly early in life. There’s nothing “neurotic” or “psychologically unhealthy” about the sense of “right and wrong”, or the signals of conscience given off when we violate our values. In fact, we have a variety of “symptom terms” for conditions that have no sense of right/wrong or responsiveness to the Ayenbite of Inwyt, or the prick of conscience.

I know this may sound incredibly dense, but after a lifetime of wrestling this specter, I finally “got it”, and came ’round to the simple statement the Apostle Paul put right out there in black and white, that… “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, narrates Screwtape advising his apprentice (Wormwood) about encouraging judgmentalism, spiritual arrogance and superiority in his “client” (the fellow being tempted). Screwtape’s comments include:

“We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials—namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility,Your affectionate uncle   SCREWTAPE”

Eventually, I figured out the key that sorted this whole thing for me. Having done so, I sometimes upset some of my more conservative brethren, because it can seem to them as if I “have no standards”. But, rather like my boss and mentor from long ago, it comes down to the “One Rule”, and the iron grip of the discipline of that.

The key Scripture here is:One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” [Romans 14:5-6]

Or, as the One Rule was woven into my internship, “discern the clearly delineated will of God, as affirmed by scripture, love, and witness of spirit, and obey that without hesitation or argument.” I find it enough of a challenge, these days, to conform to this alone. I don’t need to try to “inform the conscience of others”, or overlay my template on their lives.

But… but… what about exhortation? What about encouragement? What about confrontation of sin?

Well, that would be a whole new post of its own, but here’s how that works out in my own life and walk…

I encourage everyone I know and love to… discern the will of God for each moment as affirmed by their conscience and spirit… and do that. Right alongside that there’s the truth that although I endeavor to do that, sometimes I don’t succeed… and Jesus embraces us regardless. Like all of humanity, I am frail, I stumble and fall with clockwork regularity.

What then? Then Jesus stretches out His hand, I grasp it and He helps me up, we brush off the dust, and keep on walking. It’s the JOURNEY that He enjoys… the destination will come in its own time. If I keep staring at the map, or inspecting everyone else’s, I miss all the scenery, adventure of the trip, and joy in the company of wondrous travelling companions!

Happy Journeying!

Grace to thee — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds

 

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