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In Love We Trust…

ring-for-wedding“I still LOVE him/her, but I just can’t TRUST her/him anymore…”

So often I have heard these words. So many tears, so many hearts broken when trust and love become sundered from one another.

Why is there such anguish? Why is there such pain?

Because this is impossible. Because people cannot do what cannot be done. We cannot love what we do not trust. We cannot trust what we do not love.

When we try, we cram the heart and soul into a contorted dimension, a false condition, a form of self-denial, that does not fit and never can. Like trying to wend our way through the stairways of an Escher Drawing, we pass through some mobius portal of feelings that leave us turned inside out, vulnerable, and exposed.

When we first begin to fall in love… that’s SO scary.

Why? Why is that so fearful?

Because we risk. We risk such anguish, such disappointment.

What if we finally acknowledge that we have “fallen in love”, that our hearts are now in the hands of another… and they do not feel the same way?

Who will be the first to say, “I love you?”

Who can’t recall the incredible gush of relief when we find the beloved DOES love us back?

That is a tremendous moment in life.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But then… what about the NEXT layer of trust? The NEXT risk taken? Not just to risk trust to the “unknown”… but to trust in the “committed unknown”?

It is one thing to trust to love when there is not yet a commitment, but there is another whole layer, a whole dimension, of trusting to love when there is commitment, a covenant to faithfulness, that involves what we cannot see.

Here is where many relationships stumble… “I just worry all the time, Dr. Monk. What is he/she doing when I’m not there? Sometimes I call and there is no answer.” or “He/she calls or texts me 20 times a day, wondering where I am, who I am with, what I am doing… It’s driving me crazy!”

There is no “trust” here. There is the ongoing need for “control” here. There is only the “safety of being in charge” or of “ownership” here… Not “love”.

How do we “trust” to what we cannot “see” or “control”? How do we grow to love that much?

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And then… there’s the last layer… the final layer that sunders us from all that “makes sense”, all that is “rational”, all that is “clearly apparent”.

How do we “trust” in the face of apparent and obvious “betrayal”?

It is one thing to trust to the unknown without commitment. It is another thing to trust to the unknown WITH commitment. But it’s a clearly different thing indeed to CHOOSE to trust, in the face of an apparent KNOWN of untruth, infidelity, in a covenant relationship of commitment.

To be frank, most people consider this simply impossible. So many, particularly Christians, will say they “forgive”, but cannot “forget” and therefore cannot ever restore “trust”.

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So… “What’s going on here today, Little Monk?” you may ask. “Have we dropped through some warp from The Postmodern Mystic to an episode of Dr. Phil?”

Nope.

This post follows up from the Sizzling Bacon, and addresses the question… “How?” A few weeks ago I was intrigued by  “A Challenge”, written by Don Merritt,  wherein a listener came up to him after he had delivered a truth-filled sermon and asked, “Why don’t we believe you?” This addresses that question as well. Last, but not least, this post addresses a discussion I had with Susan Irene Fox one evening (about Don’s question), where I proposed that the answer was that “we refuse to surrender control… we are selfish”, and she disagreed, believing that, “people are simply fearful, they’re afraid.” (OK, so now you know, Susan is a kinder, more charitable, person than I…)

That conversation, those questions, kept mulling in my brain as I could sense truth in all of that, but could not put my finger on it…

Then, along with “Can You Hear the Bacon Sizzle?“, Jesus highlighted the piece I was missing… the issue is “Trust”.

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Few of us have trouble relating to love, trust, romance, in the terms that open this post. But now, for Christians, the transition to our relationship of intimacy with God can be a bit more tricky. But think about it, Jesus has “wedded” us, we are at a Marriage Feast, we are His Bride (NOT just “corporately” as part of some anonymous “herd” or “flock”… but individually as well). To attain eternal life is to KNOW the Father, and the Son, with the intimacy of a spouse…

What is the “limit”… the “constraining factor”… the “conditional boundary” of our “Intimacy” with God?

Our decision to limit our Trust of Him.

“But I DON’T ‘limit my trust’ of Him!” one would protest! “I trust Him UTTERLY!”

I can say that. I can truthfully say I have done so always. BUT, at the same time, I have NOT.

I can only “trust” to the extent that I see the challenge to trust, acknowledge that, and make a conscious choice to do so. (And most of the time, reacting to situations moment-by-moment as I do, no such thing happens).

So let’s take our romantic illustration above, and apply it to our intimacy with God for a moment…

Trust to the Unknown without Commitment: “Who will be first to say ‘I love you’?” The risk of that, the daring to the unknown of that. Consider…

18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He *said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. [Matthew 4]

I propose that we see “trust to the unknown yet uncommitted” here. Bold trust. Daring trust. Yet, all unknown as yet. So much of relationship to be discovered, uncovered, committed to.

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Time goes on, commitment grows (both directions in relationship), fealty is exchanged. There is now the “expectation” of fidelity. We see that in human romance. But how do we remain assured and at peace with what we CANNOT see, what we DO NOT understand? We see the Gospel of John highlight such a moment when Jesus speaks of eating His flesh, and so many disciples fall away. Their orthodoxy… their religion… all those rules about blood, and flesh, and what is holy and unclean… They can no longer trust Jesus. Jesus is speaking of unclean things, of abomination, of cannibalism. They can no longer walk with Him. He has ventured into the unknown, the untrustworthy. And yet… yet there are the few, there is Peter in their midst…

66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” [John 6]

They trust in the midst of the unknown. They CHOOSE to trust, they DECIDE to trust. They could have walked away, but they did not. They simply loved Jesus too much for that. They loved Him beyond their ability to understand or know… this is Trust.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But… But… What about the third case? What about “betrayal”? Jesus never “betrayed” them, did He? Well, no. He did not. He never did, He kept His word(s) always… BUT… it certainly did not SEEM that way to them, did it? The “facts” of the matter, the “evidence”, the “appearance”… certainly lined up a convincing case that He had abandoned them, leaving them to their fate at the hands of the Pharisees, did it not?

I mean, think this through. Palm Sunday, triumphal entry into Jerusalem… “Hail! Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”

What a high!

Then, to the Temple… driving out the money changers and animal sellers!

O My!

Then this week of controversy in Jerusalem. What confusion did they know? Prophecies and rumors of assassination plots against Him. The acclaim of the people. People giving livestock, goods, meeting rooms “because the Master has need” of them. Then… that mysterious Last Supper Passover meal… then the Garden… all His promises… “I will never leave you for forsake you… I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be… I lay down My life, no one takes it from Me…”

Confusingly, He tells them outright that He is going to die, but that because of that they will live. That they are His, in His hand, and they need not fear. That they will be scattered, but… He challenges them… TRUST Him!

And then… He dies!

This.. this… Messiah. This Son of God. This Resurrector of the Dead. This Healer of the Sick… Caster out of demons… Feeder of the Thousands!!! Dead! And they… were… left… alone! And scared. (Now, lest we cover this over with a “gentle Sunday-School haze” of… “well, yeah… they were alone, but, after all, they KNEW better… they KNEW He’d be back… and there was nothing to be anxious about…”)

19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be with you.” [John 20]

These people were clustered together behind locked doors, locked in by fear. John speaks of fear of the Sanhedrin, but can we even imagine the other fears that flowed through their hearts in those days? A bit further in that passage, John tells us that they came to believe only when He showed them the wounds in His hands and feet!

They knew doubt. They doubted the reports of the women from the tomb. They doubted their own eyes until they saw His wounds. Thomas doubted even THEIR report, until he plunged his own digits into Christ’s side.

So… if even THEY doubted, what made them so special to Jesus? What sets them apart, has always set them apart, as disciples then Apostles? What are we, here and now, to see and realize from their ever-so-human frailty and relationship with Him?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Disciples did not know, they did not understand, they did not feel “confident” or “holy” of “faith-y”. None of that! They were scared, and lonely, and felt betrayed. But still, they did not CHOOSE to QUIT!

They remained. They remained in relationship with (as they thought at the time) a Dead Christ… buried and stolen. They CHOSE to TRUST, even in the face of evidence contrary to all they thought possible. They chose to remain, and to continue to love Him, continue to fellowship together, continue to encourage (literally) one another… even if He had lied to them, and had now abandoned them as orphans.

(Please understand… I know full well He HAD not…. that He ALWAYS keeps His word, and NEVER abandons us!) But realize, the Disciples had no EVIDENCE that attested to that as they huddled behind those locked doors, and frankly… you and I go through many days in our lives, where we can seem just as alone as they thought they were.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And look what happened…

21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. [John 20]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Do I “trust” God? Do you? Yes, assuredly we do. And, to the extent that we trust Him, we love Him and experience His love for us.

But true though that is, I can testify to the fact that over time my “trust” has grown! Not because I ever intend to withhold trust from Him, but simply because until challenged by fear, I am not aware that there is greater trust to be had. Does that make sense?

I have discovered that my best “response” to fear… any fear… all fear… big, little, petty, grand… is “Trust”. He is there (here), He is perfect, He is powerful beyond any measure of adequacy, and He is dedicated wholly and totally to my good! I can trust to that, whether I understand it or not.

But it is only when that trust is tested…. only when circumstances seem to belie the safety of my trust… that my love and trust can grow.

It is only when I “seem” to be betrayed, wounded, lied to… when the “evidence around me” would indicate that I CANNOT trust someone… that I can freely CHOOSE to trust them, and the love of God (Father, Son, Spirit) fully flow through me. THAT is freedom! That is grace!

And, by the way, THAT is how God loves US in the first place… regardless of how much we betray Him, wound Him, or lie to Him… or even, to ourselves.

Amazing… grace…

Love = Trust = Love = Him

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Quiet Time, Reverse Polarity, Sermon Seeds

 

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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.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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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