Saturday, May 31, 2008

Impotent Idols Part 1

We humans need to find something greater than ourselves. A purpose or cause motivates us. Being motivated stirs us on all levels of our being: the body feels more willing to expend energy; the heart is encouraged and diligent, and the mind actively analyzes and determines effective courses of action toward achieving the purpose. Ironically humans, even ones claiming Christ, often substitute idolatry as a counterfeit for motivational purpose.

There is more to know here than simply the prohibition of the Ten Commandments against the making of graven images. Why the prohibition, if the idol holds no real power?

Idols reflect a sense of self back to the self. Herein is the downfall of all who trust in an idol, and the reason for God forbidding their fabrication. An idol’s power is the deception that the idol is significant. This significance is simply a projection of a person’s imagination onto the idol. When captivated by the idol, a person is in effect captivated by his or her self. Behind every emotional stirring fostered by an idol, all that is encountered is one’s own being, whose needs are teased but not met.

The circle of self -- idol -- self cannot foster true life. The idol is an illusion of life. It does stir something in the soul; the fallen nature is gratified for a brief moment. This fleeting gratification motivates a person through rationalization that a substantive and valuable outside-of-self experience is achieved. Consequently, pursuit of the idol continues.

There is a larger human quest the individual believes they have begun to gain, the quest for the illumination of spirit within the self. The gratification of idols means the idolater will put faith in the idol to know the feeling of being alive. The seeking soul of an idolater thus defines self through the idol, which is effectively only a self-by-the-self function. This consuming the self to gain life is a spiritual state and results in immaturity which cannot love others. All the emotional potential of the individual to love is cannabilizied by the self. Such a state of loving self in isolation is not life. The idol is devoid of the life which only love sustains.

Maturity in Christ means becoming free from the power of idols over the soul. Idols strengthen the sense of self in the soul; but as strength built on nothing but the self, it is the utmost state of human weakness. One’s own soul is the object of one’s will. The idol is used as the justification of how and why the soul interacts with the outside world of symbols, social structures, and conflicts. The idol is treated as a reality both important and larger than self. However, the idol and its justification intellectually is a natural world construct. It offers nothing of the power of life and love which are the supernatural domain of the Creator God alone. Only the life of God which exists outside the natural world the self inhabits satisfies the quest for illumination of the soul by the spirit.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Reflection on a Day

Wednesday, the bell will ring ending not just the school day, but the entire school year. Our students board the buses, and we teachers line the sidewalk of the parking lot. All wave vigorously, shout and smile to each other until the last big, yellow transport rumbles away. Imagine that feeling, like a Friday before a weekend. In the moment you leave work, the entire forty-eight hours loom ahead of you. Multiply by 100. Ahh...summer break!

I have had an especially good year with this particular group of children, but the cycle of events that opens the summer to me is a significant part of the job. The summer break is what many folks outside the profession see as the best part of teaching. However, and this is all the more rich, I also have the opportunity to carefully reflect on the year past and contemplate how to improve in the fall. There is time to plan and do the ground-work for the plan. Many jobs will cycle through seasons, but except for a vacation, the grist mill turns endlessly. I have a renewal every summer.

My annual work effort has a clear beginning; a vigorous, challenging climb toward a lofty goal; a climax with strong, satisfying results among most students; poignancy over kids who don’t get it; and a joyful, celebrating end for all. In the midst of the warmth and frolic of summer days, the lessons I’ve had through that year begin to percolate into ideas toward teaching more effectively.

As a disciple of the Living Jesus, every day of our lives can be like that in a small way.

He is new every morning:

Lamentations 3 --

21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 {They} are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 24 "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." 25 The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him. 26 {It is} good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD.

Resting in the Presence of Jesus, we have one day at the time. The past is covered by Him and the future is in His care. We enter each day and for that amount of time actively trust in His lovingkindness. In one day, we have a clear beginning, the needed level of challenge, results to be celebrated or considered, and a clear finish. Throughout the one day, we have the opportunity to meditate, pray, and know His comfort and guidance, while we work and interact among others. Sleep holds the promise of waking in Him again. He is a life-giving cycle for living one's life.

Contemplation and reflection inwardly in the spirit Presence of God, on a daily basis, is not a checklist discipline that makes us a “good” Christian.It is more like controlled breathing during exercise. It is an act we do that enables and supports our exertion. We can exercise without controlled breathing, but all our effort is weakened. We can physically live without resting/reflection in Jesus, but what a strengthening effect we miss!

When we make the effort to be at rest in the spirit, we connect with all good things that we need: faith, hope, and love.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Voltaire, I agree with you...

...this is the "best of all possible worlds!" However, where you would conclude, therefore, we need no concept of God; I would differ.

This world, this life, is the best possible place and the best possible way to learn what we must to enter God's Kingdom, which is no mere world. Here we have the choice to learn the way of Jesus, the way of Love Eternal.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Contrasting Worldly Hierarchy with God's Love

Stu Weber wrote a book (back in the 90's, I think) entitled Locking Arms. As I recall, its main thrust built around the idea that deep relationships open to believers through the Presence of Jesus. In that discussion, I have never forgotten something he identified. The world system functions according to a flow chart, which is backwards from what humans need:


In the world, we must always answer to a hierarchy of authority, whether within government, business, education, even ecclesiastic or on the street. Authority holds the one ruled to standards of accountability. When someone functions well meeting accountability standards, affirmation may or may not flow from the authority. We receive no human affirmation from the IRS, but often a boss trained in how to increase productivity will congratulate a worker on a good job. Possibly such congratulations will become comments that are genuine respect and acceptance on the part of the boss for the worker.

God's love:

God has already communicated His profound acceptance through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. His affirmation flows concurrently with this acceptance. As a function of the level of acceptance and affirmation we receive through our faith, we make ourselves accountable in full surrender to His authority. How would our experience within the Body of Christ be altered if we all learned to mirror the Father's order in relationship? What if people immediately felt from us our acceptance and affirmation tied to what we knew within our hearts as the love of God? Would you feel more secure in your relationships if complete acceptance were granted to you by brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of your maturity level? What if church leaders did not see themselves as "over" others? How would your experience be different, if you recognized you were treated with the same respect and deference as all others?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Final Thoughts on Passion

Expanding on Proverbs 14:30, I checked thirteen translations. Two use jealousy, three use passion, and the other eight translate the passage using envy. The Hebrew word hanq occurs 39 times in the Old Testament according to Strong's. Only once, Proverbs 14:30, is the word passion chosen for the English rendering by the NASB. The definition of hanq according to Strong’s is as follows:

ardor, zeal, jealousy

  1. ardor, jealousy, jealous disposition (of husband)
    1. sexual passion
  2. ardor of zeal (of religious zeal)
    1. of men for God
    2. of men for the house of God
    3. of God for his people
  3. ardor of anger
    1. of men against adversaries
    2. of God against men
  4. envy (of man)
  5. jealousy (resulting in the wrath of God)

Though, I did not intend to post about how a translation choice by translators affects the meaning of Scripture, it certainly comes to mind as something needing discussion! There is a significant difference between jealousy and envy. Passion as a whole encompasses a larger meaning, since jealousy and envy could be simply sub-topics. In Proverbs, there is little contextual evidence to support connotations.

Back to my Sunday experience. The pastor was passionate, and I felt myself guarded instead of drawn in by him. Was this jadedness guiding me or the Holy Spirit? I found myself listening attentively but analytically. Then I heard what I would categorize as an obvious contradiction. He had been speaking of a move of God among this particular group. He emphasized that all the glory is Jesus! Then he mentioned how God removes His glory, when a body is disobedient. God removes Jesus?

Yes, I recognize the simple semantics issues involved. The speaker had no intention to indicate that God pulls the Presence of Jesus away from a body of believers in the face of disobedience. Semantically, however, he said exactly that. The pulling back of the “glory” by God, when the glory is Jesus, is a violation of Scripture that promises He will never leave us or forsake us. Or so my mind works.

Will folks who are following a leader’s passion accept such statements? Possibly. Is this a reasonable state of affairs? Reasonable or not, it happens continually.

Passion cuts both ways, evil and good. We have crimes of passion in the courts. We know passion born of lust leads to sinful acts. We call Christ’s walk to Golgotha and His Crucifixion, His passion.

The blocked expression of passion within the Body probably exposes some folks to confusion and even temptation. The freedom to release and /or express passion is healthy. Passion can be manipulative, individually and corporately. On we could go. Some passion is rottenness in our bones and is in sharp contrast to a tranquil heart.

We need the wisdom of God to rule our hearts is my take on the issue. Life in the Spirit is our salvation.

Blessed is the name of Jesus, and I rejoice in His Presence.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Related Scripture

Continuing to think about passion, I found Proverbs 14:30. I have pasted it here in context, which as is often the case in Proverbs, is not a continuous flow. Also, this is the New American Standard version and the use of passion as the translation for the Hebrew is not consistent in other versions. What translators do to the original is another topic, but I think passion here is a fair use of the varied meanings of the Hebrew word.

26 In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge.

27 The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, That one may avoid the snares of death.

28 In a multitude of people is a king's glory, But in the dearth of people is a prince's ruin.

29 He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.

30 A tranquil heart is life to the body, But passion is rottenness to the bones.

31 He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Passion. Passion! Passion?

I listened to the preacher, this Sunday past. He had much passion. Even to several very moving moments when the beauty of his words describing the commitment on the part of our Father to humanity quivered in his voice box and flooded his eyes.

Twenty years ago, my eyes would have flooded, too, in a sympathetic, “Amen, amen!”

Passion alone once called to my soul, when the Word of Truth was praised and exalted. If a drop of the blood of Christ could be alluded to or lifted up for the congregation to consider; and this done in what I considered completely biblical exegesis, I was in that moment ready to weep and shout and dance! The unsurpassed beauty of the sweet, powerful glory of redemption waved above a congregation’s head, the banner of God’s wondrous love, riveted my heart. There could be no doubt, in my mind, the speaker was anointed. I have been redeemed from much, literally. How could I not respond at that “depth” of level?

In retrospect, my emotional response secured my cognitive understanding that the speaker was “of the Lord” or “in the spirit”. Two phrases I bandied about easily. There existed a lingo I understood within the context of both our immediate group and a larger, evangelical group with which I identified.

“Is passion deep commitment?” I ask now. In many cases they are related, I think. Yet, I wonder how they work together within a group dynamic and within an individual framework as well. What do others, you dear reader for one, think about the power of passion? What are its positive and negative characteristics?

Monday, May 5, 2008 a Little Child.

Once in my mid-thirties, I preached a sermon on humility. I only recall two bits of info from that service. I remember the topic, and I most likely remember it as a result of someone’s comment back to me. There are very few of the times I taught in the pulpit which I can specifically think of now, but this sermon stands out clearly because of this comment afterwards. A man about my age approached me. He greeted me, then stated he appreciated my exhortation to humility but lamented over hearing about humility for all his Christian life. He was ready to move on to deeper truth and greater action as a Christian.

Scanning over from then until now, I recognize that any depth of my experience of God or effective action of mine in His love is a function of the humility I embraced as a believer. There is an on-going debate among Christians over what is our responsibility before a God who is ultimately in control of all things. “After all,” it is said, “if God hardens and softens hearts according to His will, what can we do beyond what He ordains?”

Humility is the key we can choose to open ourselves to the Father and to the actions He might direct in our lives. We each wrestle in some manner with an inner ego of self. Our personhood, if you will, cannot be denied. We cannot help but think and feel according to an inner emotional state which is a function of two things outside our control. These are our genetic make-up and our conditioning through the nurture, or lack of it, while young. Nature and nurture mold our inner sense of self in all its significance and complexity, yet our souls must move away from this natural state ruling our feelings and decision-making. If we will mature with depth as people, and consequently, realize the most authoritative expression of love which is our potential; then our sense of self must grow into the larger understanding of who we are within the Spirit of God. There is no other way to live as if one does not belong to this world but to the next.

I suspect this invites thinking about Calvinism and God's complete sovereignty over Creation. I'll be honest with you. I can't or won't wrap my head around this and other theologies concerning the Father. For right or wrong, or possibly just functioning within the limits of understanding we each must face, I have cast aside the pre-destination of Calvinism as unnecessary to understand. Inside the crucible of our physical earthly lives, we have a free will even if it is simply so in our limited perceptions, and that is significant.

The exercise of our will toward God is the measure of whether or not we experience Him fully. Jesus said you must become as a little child to enter the Kingdom. Adults who feel like children in their hearts? What is that all about? Humility. In humility our life with Him begins, and it must follow this path to reach its potential. I propose our natural human pride and fear, which are at the root of all our stubbornness before God, are both fully undermined and made ineffective by an act of our will to embrace humility. Is this will limited? Unquestionably, but it is all I know. God's sovereignty beyond that is beyond my comprehension.

All Christians will state likewise: Faith must embrace the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. And faith begins and flourishes when we exercise our will to choose humility. Yes, we become as a little children to enter the Kingdom. An act of humility or for some of us like me, the moment when all one's arrogance is shattered in humiliation, is at the onset of a functioning faith. Read Philippians 2. If the God of the universe chose a path of humility to reveal Himself to us--an utter and complete emptying of His God status to become human--is this not our example? Is it not wonderfully simple? We empty ourselves of the fallen nature that is so opposite His nature as a function of humility before Him to move toward Him. This reflects that which He demonstrated in moving toward us. His humility initiated toward us first. We look and learn and trust in His example; then our will humbles itself, all the wonder of His redemptive plan kicks in, and we are filled by His glory.

Just some thoughts as I listen to the morning birds in this part of the wild wood.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Leaving Dormancy as a Tree in the Wildwood

Okay, it's not Father's Day but its time to write again. I hope my old friends will join me again.

In my time of silence, Freida and I visited our daughter in Seattle and my sister near San Francisco. We really enjoyed Seattle. Let the record show, it is my new favorite city!

Oh yeah, the best news by far is that I am going to be a grandfather! That should give an interesting twist to what I was planning to write for Father's Day.