Monday, December 31, 2007

It's New Year's Eve afternoon, and...

we are enjoying a cloudless day with soaking-the-skin warm temperatures. The Atlantic is our front yard just a short walk across the buffer of a shell-strewn beach. Sunlight pours from its low winter angle and shimmers wide as a primal river from the horizon to the gentle froth of surf. Interesting that the weather forcast for home when we get there Wednesday warns of several inches of snow and a high of 16 degrees!

I'll continue the series I left off last week once I am warm by the woodstove. ;^)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas

God is love. I John 4:8

It is His nature,
His joy of love motivating Creation,
His peace responding in love as an effect to man’s cause in the fall
(the curse was tough love),
His loving patience bringing forth a chosen people governed by holy law,
His kindness and goodness through love in sending His Son,
His faithfulness on the Cross: love in its fullest fruit of sacrifice,
His gentle, eternal power of love and rising gloriously from the tomb defeating death,
His self-control in giving the church a guide at Pentecost and because of love allowing her
to seek the way as a function of man’s will.
In Him, we know love.

I hope each of you know fully through this holiday season, the warmth from the fire in His heart!

We are headed for the beach after Christmas on our annual family beach retreat. I probably will not be able to post again until January. See you then! Below are a couple of pictures from past retreats. I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Loving God is...?

I posed the question in the previous post, "Loving God is about what...exactly?" I received the following ideas from some of my readers. I agree with each one.

kim's hotrod said, "...I'm beginning to think that it's something totally different (from the things I do for God). That maybe loving God is accomplished by loving each other, especially those whom we least want to love."

I agree and see the love of God and accomplishing actions which are motivated in us by His love as inseparable. Clearly, the action of loving others His way drives the building up of our love for Him.

steve said, "To me, it's allowing his life to be lived through me out of sheer gratitude for the fact that I even have the opportunity to let him live through me!"

This also speaks to the connectedness of His love and our choosing actions in harmony with that love.

alan said, "There are certainly many evidences of our love of God: devotion toward God, feelings toward God, doing things for others, caring for things that God cares about, etc. But I don't think these are the essence or nature of love." This comment articulates evidences of something going on in our hearts, but raises the question is such "the essence or nature of love?"

jesse added this: "I think loving God is simply loving without fear of rejection, like is illustrated to us by a small child loving his parents." Jesse, I think is digging more into the essence how the love we feel for God may be hindered by some lack of faith in us.

josiah says, "So loving God is response to his love thus, if you love Me, obey." Again we see a witness speak of that connection between what we know of loving God and the actions we choose in response.

As I have mentioned in a previous post or two, I have a sincere trust in the view that the voice of many brings into focus the fullest possible meaning. I think the witnessing of experience amongst readers who chose to respond establishes loving God and loving action are connected, and that we will encounter hindrances. God is a compelling motivator to loving actions. However the actions alone are not the evidence that we love God. It is difficult to separate what we feel from and for God and the actions which will follow. As kim's hotrod alluded to, we must guard against doing the actions alone, as if "doing" automatically indicates "being" in connection with and loving the Presence of God within us. jesse speaks to something which must be dealt with in order to enter into loving God. Our faith must embrace that His perfect love for us is reason to cast out fear from our hearts. This is an important precursor to entering into the loving of God. Such a good insight I had not considered as I thought over what I would write!

I do not wish to enter into absolutes of what explains loving God. I understand that this will begin to take on separate meanings for individuals, and I respect the authenticity of such. Yet I do believe there are some attributes of loving God which may be identified as universal. I also do not suggest that what I am about to write is an exclusive list of a universal human experience. These are just a few of my thoughts.

I think we believers need time, call it prayer, meditation, thinking, in which honest emotional feelings of love for God are engendered. I love my wife and children intensely. Thinking of any of these individuals always brings a stirring of my emotions. I decided a few years ago to allow thinking of my heavenly Father and His Son to engender an emotional response as well. God is not simply an intellectual construct. He is a living Being. Further, I seek in moments of rest (not lying down, drowsy rest, but emotional rest from the mental and physical work of existence in this life) to open my heart and sense His love for me flowing into me. I believe that the Father has expressed a desire to commune with humans. Adam walked with God in the evening. This relationship was broken, but has been restored by the Second Adam, Jesus. Communion with God is an act of faith, not just study. Study gives my mind the needed constructs. My heart opens me to feel the reality.

In the day to day, there is a simple emotional maneuver I may practice. That is recognizing that my personality is on "auto-pilot". I am the person I was shaped and nurtured to be. I cannot stop being me. I respond to the stimulus of life in predictable ways, in patterns that reflect my inner-being. In order to keep the auto-pilot from calling attention to myself or mandate a situation to go in my favor or toward ends I find desirable, or not describe the story going on around me to myself as if I am what it is all about, I have to do something. I have to override the auto-pilot. I must make a willful decision to see God in the moment, feel His Presence, and act accordingly.

A key to loving God is by faith to find one's will enabled to move toward Him regardless of how the natural man is reacting to the stimulus from the outside world. We die to inclinations and impulses, and as a function of the will, be the new man He has birthed within us. To do such is an inward act of loving God that has very fruitful consequences in how we conduct ourselves.

If that makes any sense to you, then take one final semantic step with me. To exercise one's will toward God, based on the faith that what God has done enables such, and motivated because an active sense of loving exists between the Father and one's self is an emotional reality and a spiritual state. This state, I contend, is that which we reference in Scripture as,"walking in the spirit." Therefore, to love God is to be opened to the walk in the spirit He desires for us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pile on the Fodder (as in raw material to create with)

Roll up the sleeves and get down to the grunt work. Loving God is about what...exactly?

Your thoughts?

I know mine.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Edwards, Whitefield, Finney and Love

Most folks reading these essays here at Spirit in the Wild Wood will recognize the name of Jonathan Edwards in connection with the Great Awakening of the 18th century. Add to his name that of George Whitefield and eighty years after these two, the name of Charles Finney. Together these three largely shaped the heritage and practice of evangelism prevailing in the 20th century American church.

Through Jonathan Edwards’s ministry, the emoting of deep repentance as response to a message of fire and brimstone, including noticeable physical affectations like “swooning,” reached levels of such common renown that the established church of the day repudiated him. George Whitefield increased the numbers attending meetings in amounts greater than many of today’s mega churches. Ben Franklin once verified mathematically that Whitefield was vocally reaching audiences with his natural voice numbering in the tens of thousands. Finney developed a place for those affected by his preaching and interested in becoming Christians encouraging these move to the front and wait on the “the anxious bench.”

In reading the histories of these three, detailed references regarding their “passion” either at conversion or in the ministry are frequent. Each had theological specifics that differentiated them one from the other, but nonetheless the common denominator of passion cannot be mistaken. From this period of time, two very significant American Christian standards of the 20th century are unmistakably rooted. These are the large evangelical meeting intended to produce large numbers of converts known variously as revivals, crusades or harvest meetings, and the sinner’ prayer at conversion. That this conversion experience is associated with a strong emotional response to one’s condition of sin and need for saving grace is a situation which we have all witnessed. Certainly most of us will admit having seen in various degrees a direct attempt of appeal to emotion as part of the ambience and rhetoric of the altar call.

The passion of these three historical leaders are cause for debate even today, largely because we as a broad body of believers do not share perspectives on the appropriateness, efficacy, or authenticity of emotion in the experiences of conversion and the Christian walk. I could possibly expound on my thoughts concerning each of these men and their ministries, but that is not my purpose.

Rather I simply submit one can neither separate passion from the human experience generally nor from the Christian walk singularly. We are a passionate race despite individuals known and highly regarded for being dispassionate.

Further the gospel calls us to love. Because Christ first loved us and He died for us (known euphemistically as His passion), we love Him in return. Extending this concept, we are called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love others as we love ourselves. These two commandments fulfill the entire law! How can we honestly teach anyone that walking in the truth of Christ is about getting one’s doctrine straight according to a prescribed list of what is and is not correct doctrine?

Why do we shy away from attempting to teach about a heart experience with Christ and elevate an intellectually based theology instead? I suspect this is because the rational approach is both quantifiable and easily reduced to a check list of who should be perceived as “in” and who is “out”. Maybe we need the quantifiable approach, because along the way we believed from experience that the best ministries reached tens of thousands of people at the time. These needed to be rapidly processed through a justifiable means--the sinner’s prayer—enabling a peace of mind that the emotional responses generating conversions were not just emotional. Thus we grew the church. Now in the 21st century, the standard denominational church is fighting to keep membership from being solely gray-haired and those not attending are stating a desire to know God not ritual.

The Christian experience is a human experience involving love. If we do not embrace the emotional level of this reality, we fail the convert in equipping him or her to walk in the newness of life; we fail one another in the substance of the shared experience; we fail ourselves in never understanding our true potential; and we will fail God in our lack of faith. Or so it appears to me in the Wild Wood.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bernard and the Bellwether of our Heart

I have done very little reading from the volumes of Christian literature generated over the two thousand years of history since Jesus walked physically among us. “Little” relative to the amount which exists and the bit of reading I have accomplished from authors I selected. My reading could never qualify as formal research. I have simply stumbled upon or sought out random questions that lead me into various volumes. Despite the brevity of this smattering of experience within Christian history, I have used such to grow in understanding. Here goes.

Somewhere along the way about ten years ago, my wife picked up a book of devotional essays that were taken from across the centuries. It is interesting to read these essays in one volume bringing a bit of illumination to Christian thinking in varied cultures and historical contexts. In this book (cited below) I met Bernard of Clairvaux, of whom I had never heard, writing from 12th century Europe. My lack of knowledge is a clear function of experiencing Christianity largely within the Protestant framework of thought, which draws very little from church history after the time of Constantine and prior to the Protestant Reformation.

The author was a monk known as Bernard of Clairvaux, and though I knew nothing of him at the time, I have since learned he was a major player in many political and church related events of his day. Within such context, there is one very interesting fact about the man: he always refused promotion to higher ecclesiastical office. In reading the history, he undoubtedly was intelligent and influential; yet he began his work in the church of the day as a monk and finished his life’s work as a monk, though he had been one to work along side regents and popes.

“There (the abbey he founded) he remained abbot all his life,
despite many efforts to elevate him to higher ecclesiastical office.
A holy life, a reputation for miraculous cures, and unusual
eloquence made Bernard renowned, and he became the most
powerful religious influence in France and, in time, in all Western Europe.”

I read other Christian blogs and often find there debates on doctrine. I have come to a place in my own life that I am more interested in the fruits of the Spirit. I am not discounting the importance of sound teaching based on biblical text; but if that teaching does not produce something of the Kingdom of God growing evidently in the heart, is it valid? Anyway, back to what I wanted to tell you about Bernie and his journey. The history written of him speaks of humility and that to me speaks of Jesus. Folks who confess the Lord with their mouths and evidence His character in life are evidence of a profound reality, the Holy Spirit at work in mere humans. That gets my attention.

What I originally spotted about Bernard is what I wanted to mention foremost in this post. He taught something he called “The Four Degrees of Love.”

First Degree: love of self for self’s sake.
Second Degree: love of God for the self’s sake.
Third Degree: love of God for God’s sake.
Fourth Degree: love of self for God’s sake.

Foster and Smith. Devotional Classics. Renovare, San Francisco. c 1993 pp 41-2

Until I read this, I never fully understood love your neighbor as yourself. By that I mean, I had reached a place where I knew the Bible was true and everything it said. However, among the things which did not move beyond my intellectual comprehension, I could never quite divide within my own heart where I behaved selfishly as separated from loving myself. Honestly, hating me was my condition before I came to the Lord. That root lingered in my life for a long time. It took me a while to understand many things about the soul and mine in particular. Specifically, without loving myself for good reason--and that being as a function of my love of God--I could not begin to separate my selfishness from my motivations.

This was a part of my inward journey into love, which I now regard as essential to being an effective, loving Christian. Love cannot be imposed upon our hearts from the outside through teaching, demand, or social expectation. The inward life, the heart, is the bellwether of our outward experience.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Innie or Outie?

I drank mug of coffee #2 staring at the screen waiting on a posting idea to materialize and reflected a bit on my experience thus far as a blogger. I’ve enjoyed the challenge to attempt communicating with others some of my thoughts. I am glad to have a reason to write on a regular basis. As a teacher, facing the rigors of writing and understanding this process better strengthens the instruction of my students as writers. I am thankful for a venue which may be of use encouraging our young-adult children in their faith; they mostly live on their own and we no longer have daily contact. (One lives at home and another is about to move back in for a semester of school, but all are eighteen or over and the pace of our lives limits everyday connecting.) I desire to avoid sounding so much like a teacher. Well, it’s worth a try anyway, eh?

I was pondering a topic, no the topic: the absolute of love. All the meaning of life or lack thereof is woven around those four letters. It is ridiculously simple and unfathomably complex at once. Like a kid in the store, I was imagining the ways and means and varieties of approaches to speak on this topic. I felt incredibly small before the shelves. One thought later, a literal moment of insecurity considering this and an immediate sense of, “Give this up now!” Then I pinpointed in that moment how my mindset to the blogging medium didn’t fully serve my goal. Writing a blog post for me so far is like microwave cooking. I need to write (eat) in a sitting. I get the piece prepped, covered in a dish, into the oven, punch a few buttons and then present immediately for consumption. If I am still hungry (have more to say on the topic), I repeat the process.

Today I did a little prior mapping of a route. The title above is the prologue to an undetermined number of posts—though I have identified several legs of the journey ahead of time. (That's new for me!)

“Are you an ‘Innie’ or an ‘Outie’?” is not a question about five year old anatomies. As the father of five though, it popped in my head as a way of describing a basic divide I see in the way Christians approach love. While love is both inward journey and outward expression, perspectives on which is the important focus for the disciple of Jesus tend to divide as if love was easily polarized. Generally, I observe those who emphasize inward terms and topics that are weighted "spiritually" and outward folks use terms and topics weighted "practically." Love is, of course, both. My goal here is to explore, maybe challenge, how someone might develop a fuller experience of love. Discussion is invited, as I am firmly convinced the Mind of Christ is revealed in the fuller view of many Christians speaking together.

Even if you only read, think and make no comment, I hope you will take the poll to the right. It will be of interest to me what the numbers are in final tally.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Dilemma Dehorned

I raised a dilemma in the last post purposely. The tension existing between the two sides identified, an intellectual approach to scripture and the experience of the heart as lived by the everyday person, is real.

I have talked with many, many members of the established church system who say in effect, “This isn’t what God intended, but it is all we have.” Members of leadership are rarely this candid; however, if for some reason this level of participant is separated from the status quo, these often repeat a similar sentiment. I think the problem is our level of understanding of what it means to “walk in the spirit.”

craig v., commenting in response to the last post said,

“I would say the goal isn't an intellectual or spiritual state but
rather the love of God finding its goal in the love of His people.”

This statement is clearly a simple truth. The message of this season, “Emmanuel, God with us,” is the spiritual interjection of God’s love into fallen humanity. The Incarnation of God, Jesus, intended that humans experience redemption not just for the sake of eternity but unto the depths of love during this life. Though we cognitively understand as Bible-reading Christians we are called to love others, do we experientially and confidently know the move of the Spirit of God through our souls? Can we will the love of God to move through us toward others? (I use Can purposely not coincidentally.)

josiah’s next comment was,

“Our minds, whether complex or simple in understanding,
serve love or rationalize disobedience to God. This root is
where the divergence between fruitful and vain discussion
takes place.”

This comment thrilled me on two levels. Within the context of the discussion, the commonality of being human is clearly described. Regardless of giftings, the condition of our heart to pursue divergent paths is the human condition.
I concur. This is the taproot of all the experiences of the soul. Our will is planted in the soil of the soul. From the exercise thereof springs either the peaceful fruit of righteousness in Jesus or the vanity of our earthly nature. (The more personal level is, that’s my son saying that! Oh the joy of seeing one’s offspring walk in Truth!)

postmodern redneck contributed next,

“A lot of the theological distinctives I have seen are the
result of a Christian seeing a truth new to him in the Bible,
and then obsessing on it to the exclusion of most other
truths (including many more important issues).”

Have we not all done this? Or at least I have, and I have observed others do the same. This is one source of confusion and discord among brethren. From something within us which is vain, we plunder from the Word and pursue under the banner of Truth our own self aggrandizement. Because of the substance in the Word, we feel justified. Because of the deceitfulness of our heart, we fail to see our motivation.

george then commented,

“Only if God/Jesus/Spirit is alive and lives consciously
within him, such that a relationship experienced in both felt and cognitive ways is (this) possible.” (I added “this” for clarity)

George is referring to my ending question of whether or not a spiritual state of being satisfied and deceit-free independent of rationalism can be achieved. He has identified what I intended to identify as the source of balancing the dilemma. This spiritual state is (or so I contend) “in the spirit," or to cognitively and emotionally embrace an active relationship with God, Who is understood as Emmanuel, a Resident within one’s self.

steve sensenig ended the comments with,

“I find that the dilemma between "the deceitful heart"
and "the pure heart" only seems to come from a particular
way of approaching the biblical text.”

I could not agree more, and this identifies the problem. The modern Christian experience appears, in practice at least, to not accept the message of the whole of Scripture. The Father has answered our need not simply in the redemptive message of Christ (a composite rationalization of the Word), but through the fullness of the message, the in-dwelling Spirit sent to guide and comfort His children; and this reality known as the common experience of His disciples.

Our fear of the deceitfulness of the heart is answered when Jesus said, “The pure in heart shall see God.” I realized one day that it was hopeless I would ever see God in the earth, let alone for eternity, except that the righteousness of Christ become my heart, the center of my being. I am deceit and love of the darkness when left to myself as that is my nature on the earth. Yet, His prayer (John 17) and promise is that we will be in-dwelt and be one with the Father.

However, this is not a call to independence. It is a call to dependence. First, we must learn the rest of the in-dwelling Christ; and second, we learn that His manifestation on the earth occurs within the context of community. “Where two or more are gathered, there I am in the midst of them.”

Therefore, the answer to the dilemma is that a rational thinking which includes careful reading of the Scripture and identifying particularly, interpretations inconsistent with the meanings of the original language and/or customs of the day, is part of our understanding. However, rational understanding of the Word is not the goal. Rationality supports the goal of discipling anyone into a daily state of grace wherein the will is freed from the influence of the old nature and one embraces a new creature experience supernaturally because Jesus is within; thus one can fulfill “the love of God finding its goal in the love of His people.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Where am I?

I am in the middle of a busy week: on Monday, another teacher and I developed a mid-year assessment in math for two grade levels to be used across our county in January; had a team meeting after school on Tuesday; bounded out of bed at 3:50 AM this morning to prepare being away from my class for a day while I went to a development seminar on reading today in Charlotte; and I am running the clock for the middle school basketball games on Thursday. Such extra stuff pushes my regular preparation time into other slots, which pushes what was in these other slots, blogging for example, out.

I hope to have a follow-up post done by the weekend.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Dilemma

The following is based on a few prerequisites:

Nobody has a complete handle on the Lord. His ways are higher than ours. Our perspective is developed inside the limited bubble of our existence on earth within these physical bodies, our tents, if you will; these bodies are corrupted flesh; and He is spirit and not of the earth.

The French have a proverb: “The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.” It sounds prettier in the French, but you get the idea.

Jer 17:9
“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”

Mt 5:8
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

On to the post.

Along my journey I have learned many things. Much of this is useless, though it sticks in my brain. Did you know that among the improvements to the 1954 VW Beetle as compared to its predecessor, the crank turns to raise and lower the windows went from 10 ½ in ‘53 (and all previous models) to 3 ½ in the ‘54? It has never benefited me to know this!

I have also learned that humans are difficult to understand. If it were a simple, factual matter wherein we analyze from a purely objective, natural world perspective, it might prove a little easier. However, humans make errors in recall, application, and synthesis so objectivity is out, and humans as a studied object do not function logically. We are not computers, nor can we be reduced to a finite list of yes/no answers.

We have a heart. Psychiatric science would call it the “psyche”, poets like to mention the “soul”, and politicians fear it.

There is no escaping that humans have a piece of themselves which completely influences them, and this contrary part is separate from the intellect. We are not rational beings. We can determine to think rationally and be magnificently successful, but our irrational times are inexplicable and many. The French, in their inimitable way, have reduced this hard concept down to its essence. (See proverb above.) Are you trying to understand a woman, guys? Are you trying to understand a man, ladies? Every human has an emotional reason for why he or she is making the decision he or she is making which defies logic. ‘Nuf said.

The Scripture warns us in Jeremiah 17:9 that this aspect of being within us, the heart, cannot be trusted. Evangelical Christianity has fully accepted this notion of never trusting the deceitful heart as the culture of rationalism in which Protestantism developed has progressed. This logical response is called systemic theology among other things. We attempt to rationally interpret scripture for a variety of reasons, but at least to protect ourselves from demagogues who would build a following on fear, and this post is not to suggest that working to correctly interpret scripture is wrong. Yet, those with intellectual strength and, er... pride maybe--there’s that heart issue again--excitedly engage in attempting to establish one intellectual system of interpretation over another. How successful has that proved to be in uniting Christians and supporting the everyday person?

Where does the common man find support for spiritual seeking and awareness of God the Father? On the one hand, those who rationalize Scripture warn him that the heart is deceitful, therefore he must move beyond the deceitful heart to live in an intellectual and systematic approach. The Scriptural proof of this is Jeremiah 17:9. However, as he reads the Word for himself, Jesus states he will see God, as a function of a pure heart.

Which brings us to a real world dilemma: Does Everyman trust in a trained, intellectual discourse on Scripture or is there a spiritual state he might achieve which does not rest on rationalism in which he may secure a satisfying and deceit-free spiritual awareness?

I know what I think. What do you think?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Deciding on Being a Teacher

It is interesting being a teacher. Hard sometimes, but mostly rewarding. It can be embarrassing, too. I wax didactic because it's just the way I'm put together, and everybody groans. Or at the very least, my wife is gently, discreetly touching my elbow. That means I am talking too much again and hadn't noticed.

I never thought about being a teacher growing up. I wanted to be a pilot or an actor; movies or Broadway both seemed reasonable to me. When the Navy took me up in that plane the summer after high school (1973) and gave me the joystick, I signed up as soon as we landed; but that didn't happen. I entered college and became consumed by a fairly broken but demanding bunch of emotions that lead me into many, many foolish, dangerous or just plain stupid decisions. Among them, I quit school and that meant the Navy didn't want me anymore.

By 1979 I lived in a basement cubicle, 8 x 8 with a six foot ceiling, in a rooming house across the street from a state university. I had spent two years in college and four years wandering around the country--San Francisco, New York, Key West and places in between. I had owned first a car, then a motorcycle, followed by a ten-speed, but finished my travels either using my thumb or by Greyhound, depending on how much cash I had at any given time. I slipped into this small NC, mountain town escaping the big city life I had known and was surprised by grace! I had become a believer in Jesus, but only weeks separated me from the dunk washing my sins away and rising to new life in Him. Resisting the urges to walk on the path I had known a month prior was still my main daily occupation. I worked as a tree-planter in the western NC mountains. I'd lived twenty-four years, and the six lived on my own had left me, hmmmm, pretty much warped. I did believe Jesus was the answer; but I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. One afternoon when I had the day off (can't remember why), pondering the future while having my daily punching battle with the desires of the old man, I said out loud, "God, what do I do with the rest of my life?" The absolute, split-second, next word in my brain was teacher.

I stood, walked acrossed the street to that university and inquired about transferring my records from the small two-year school in north Georgia I'd attended. It would take me five years to finish with an education degree--marriage and children kept interrupting school work, wonderful!--but now 25 years into teaching vocationally and avocationally, I understand I had something written on my heart from God.

I think this is the reason I have become a blogger. There are endless aspects of the Father I want to understand and hearing others share facilitates learning; and the few aspects I feel I understand about God, I need to share...but it will probably sound like I am teaching. Oh well.