Religion


Star of Bethlehem by Edward Burne-Jones

Star of Bethlehem by Edward Burne-Jones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(For Christmas, this post is a day early.) I think human hearts are like stables. They can be dark, chaotic, and filthy, but can also be well-swept and rich in ordinary earthiness.

There’s an unexpected treasure to be had, camouflaged and swaddled right in the midst of life’s dung.

I used to miss out simply because there was no room in my spirit for Christ-like love of self and neighbor. Even among Christians, it’s often inadvertently sent to the barn.

It’s so easy to be sucked into a life-style of insistent, angry arguments or a need to crush opponents. It’s easy to believe that it’s necessary to forcefully defend ideas, feelings, or whatever feels threatened. A quickly-offended, anxious spirit that sees only the cold, hard facts of life can take control and color everything with in-your-face disgust or dark shame.

But that spirit is vanquished once we realize we can make room for a personal sense of gracious, gentle power and intelligent strength of character able to love even people we don’t like (including ourselves).

It’s a king of an idea disguised as an infant that grows within a virgin-like humanity ignorant of what God’s been doing—and is still doing—in the world. When it grows up, fully mature and practiced, mankind will be sound of heart, mind, and body. We’ll finally be free of sorrow and frustration.

What a treasure! This is the glory of God and the tremendous hope we have in Christ in ordinary, everyday living on this planet—today and in ages to come.

It took me long enough, but I finally understand. There really are glad tidings of great joy, for unto us is born this day a child. Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her king; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing!

Merry Christmas wherever you live!

 

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In memory of Sandy Hook ElementaryIn the wake of the horror and grief in Newtown, CT, last week, many of us (including me) ask where God is. Even those with a strong relationship with Him wonder why He allows such tragedy.

In the words of Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.” (Hab. 1:3)

First, I think it’s a good sign to wonder. It means we’re still capable of caring, that we retain some vestige of God’s image and character in us. The day that something like this doesn’t upset our collective human spirit and bring cries of protest (think Job or David) would be an alarming day indeed.

Second, no one has all the answers, least of all me. However, I believe the answer has to do, oddly enough, with the fact that God’s love is far stronger than ours. We usually think of this as a good thing until tragedy strikes. Then we don’t like God’s love so much. It doesn’t make sense.

You see, our kind of love seeks to protect at any cost the objects of our love. Safety, rather than freedom or experience or understanding, tends to take precedence. And the priority is not just safety for the loved one, but to protect ourselves from pain and grief. This kind of love is a bit selfish and thus weaker than God’s.

I don’t say this critically. It’s just how it is with finite beings who don’t have full knowledge and control over the entire spectrum of life, death, and everything in between. We aren’t God; and part of not being God means being vulnerable to a certain amount of fear.

By contrast, God’s love isn’t selfish or weak. Our freedom and understanding, rather than physical safety or protection, takes precedence because from His vantage point, all is well in hand even when He doesn’t like what’s going on. His posture is more relaxed because He has full knowledge and control over the entire spectrum of life and death. (more…)

Goonies Treasure Map

Goonies Treasure Map (Photo credit: MontyAustin)

Once you begin to see value in yourself, you’ll also need to see value in transformation. Then you’re enabled to make a choice that makes sense to you. You can intend transformation to live new life in God’s kingdom.

I find it unsettling that after forty years as a Christian, I never really had a complete or practical image of the kingdom of heaven, probably because I marginalized the bulk of what Jesus said. I didn’t see it myself when I read the Gospels, nor did church leaders present it to me.

I had a stronger relationship with my church and bible than with Jesus. Like many, I believed that forgiveness alone would save me. And the cross he hung on, not he, would change my life. Effectively, for most Christians I know, Jesus is worth more dead than alive because his primary value was in his crucifixion, not his life.

The Lord’s life-style didn’t make sense to me. Therefore, I didn’t plan and organize my own life-style around his. I never formed the intent to live the kind of life from above that he did in God’s kingdom. And after forty years, it showed.

For one thing, I saw the kingdom of heaven and salvation strictly as an afterlife issue. The kingdom was far away and far future, having little bearing on the challenges in my current life. Eternity started after I physically die, and passage from death to life occurred only then. For another thing, any necessary changes in this life would happen to me once I espoused the right doctrines, especially those pertaining to atonement for sin.

For me, this constituted trust, faith, and belief. It was the definition and extent of obedience to Christ. My delayed reward would be that I’d one day wake up in a wispy realm with God, engaged in an eternal church service complete with choirs, harps, and lots of Amens and Hallelujahs.

Becoming the sort of person who can stand life with God never occurred to me. I wondered instead how God can stand me. (more…)

Juggler

Juggler (Photo credit: anadelmann)

Continuing from last week, transformation from death to life starts with the realization that we’re jumbled, broken souls, but not worthless souls.

You and I can humbly acknowledge our ruined condition without self-contempt, for that’s a seed that lays deep roots and grows into a spirit of contempt for others.

It creates double-mindedness and a divided heart instead of an undivided one. How can you love neighbors consistently or be spontaneously kind to enemies when you’re not even prepared to love yourself?

The person you are inside is the person you are when your guard is down—like after you’ve had too much wine. Everyone knows the happy drunk or the belligerent drunk, and it’s common to hear, “That was the alcohol talking last night.” But it was really the true person sneaking out when alcohol put the guard to sleep.

A member of my family was married years ago to a charming guy who became verbally and physically abusive when he drank. When he was sober, he was always deeply, genuinely, terribly sorry. He tearfully pleaded for (and received) forgiveness. But he never changed.

The fact is regret alone has no transformative power. Forgiveness alone won’t move you into the promised land of wellness. While these are necessary components of Christian repentance, the driving force behind transformation is a clear vision of who you can become, the willing choice to change, a sensible, knowledgeable way to do it, and then following it. God supplies everything but the willingness and the following. (more…)

Blah Blah Blah
Blah Blah Blah (Photo credit: arhezbee)

Last week, I wrote that by God’s design, the will (heart, spirit) is linked to thought and feeling (mind, choice).

This week, we’ll explore the link between those and the body and behavior. If that link is lost or broken, a soul (self) degenerates into ruin; and when you separate them all from God, the self descends into spiritual death.

The reverse is regeneration—that is, restoring the individual elements of the soul to a cohesive whole, and bringing that into harmony with God. This is new life, salvation. “He restoreth my soul.” (Psa. 23:3)

Christians talk about lostness or brokenness, but in my experience, it’s mistakenly confused with worthlessness. However, if you lose your wallet, does that mean it’s worthless? If you break your leg, do you throw it away? The biblical concept of human ruin doesn’t mean worthlessness.

Jesus emphasized this with his parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin (Mat. 18:12, Luk. 15:8). He also said, “What good is it if you gain the whole world but forfeit your soul?” (Mrk. 8:36, Luk. 9:25) These describe the tremendous value of people even in a ruined condition.

Dysfunctional Training

The term “flesh” generally refers to an unbalanced fixation on body sensations or behavior. The focus is external. Paul observed that the mind set on the flesh is death, while the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. The mind-set of the flesh is hostile toward God and simply can’t submit to His Law of love (Rom. 8:5-7). (more…)

Fork in road
Fork in road (Photo credit: creativelenna)

Have you ever considered that even un-regenerated people are made in God’s image? Everyone is born with the capacity to create and originate things and events, and the freedom to choose.

That’s an extraordinary thing when you consider what power that is. And when you consider man’s fall, it’s an almost unthinkable power because it means we can choose evil or good. We can also reject either one.

Which brings us to the will. To me, this is the most God-like aspect of His image that you and I are endowed with. I often say that even the nastiest person to walk this earth is more like God, in this respect, than anything else on the planet.

Will is the same as heart or spirit. It’s the core of personhood, the center of the soul. The sort of person you are and the way you speak and behave emanate from here. The heart is the wellspring of life (Pro. 4:23). It’s also wicked and beyond its own cure (Jer. 17:9), but not incurable.

As central as it is, will/heart/spirit can’t be separated from the other elements of the self (soul)—mind, body, behavior, and social relationships. You can single it out when you want to discuss it, as Scripture does, but the will doesn’t operate independently. It’s profoundly shaped by thought, feeling, physical bodily systems, environment, routines and habits, and other people. (more…)

Cropped screenshot of Charlton Heston from the...
Cropped screenshot of Charlton Heston from the trailer for the film The Ten Commandments. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that knowing God is the definition of eternal life and briefly explored some ways to practice His presence. This week, we look at knowing ourselves—who we are and who we can become. Before anyone can change for the better, they need to see where they are and know where they want to go.

First, See the Big Picture (Vision, Image)

The epic Exodus found in the Old Testament is an eye-opening, big picture of salvation. It isn’t simply “going to heaven” when you die. Deliverance isn’t an airlift where you’re in one place/condition then suddenly transported to another. God didn’t lift the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt into the Promised Land.

Rather, deliverance is passage. Salvation is spiritual exodus from ruin to new life—transformation and restoration while you live. The person you are when you die is the person who steps into the afterlife. Living eternally with God is simply the extension of living your current life with Him, for the present is included in, and part of, eternal life.

Thankfully, God wasn’t waiting on the other side of the Red Sea for the Hebrew slaves to figure it out and arrive on their own. Likewise today, He isn’t waiting on the other side of the pearly gates. God was with the slaves through it all. Although He initiated and master-minded their passage, He didn’t do everything for them. In partnership, He instructed and held them accountable to conquer many things, always with the promise that He was with them.

God still initiates transformation, but doesn’t do everything for you. So practice is to modern Christians what the desert was to the Israelites. It’s about preparation, refinement, mistakes, and correction. By grace, God shows the way of deliverance and offers His presence and support throughout. It’s the great theme of Scripture. (more…)

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