Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Collecting Readers' Thoughts

I have spent many posts writing largely about individual experience in the spiritual life. I'd like to think about the larger experience of community life within the context of a body of believers.

Share a thought of what comes to mind when you think about being a member of the Body.

Don't worry about length of your comments. I'll read it all! And no comment is too small.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Final Thoughts on Hole and Wound

Yesterday, my daughter and I visited a local church service down the road from my house a bit. The morning mountain air and brilliant sunshine made for a pleasant walk. My daughter and I had planned the outing as something to do together while my wife is out of town for a few days. The speaker's topic was on...ready for this?...things that hold us back from being connected to God and others, with an emphasis on overcoming being wounded. I was sitting there listening attentively, waiting for the tap on my heart from the Lord. I knew there was a purpose for me to hear this message in the midst of my sharing some of my ponderings in the Wood here for the past week. Outside, we could hear a thunder storm approaching. It was about three-fourths of the way through the message when the speaker neared his summation and utters his climatic theme line to which he built, "Open your heart!" Lightening strikes somewhere and momentarily throws the meeting hall into darkness. The light flickers back on after a few seconds, and the congregation laughs at God's punctuation mark. It got my attention in the circumstance, as well, and I began to compose this post.

In the message, I heard him use references to our sin nature (I've been using a metaphor of hole) and our woundedness interchangeably. I promise I am not orchestrating any of this. Further, he had spent much time building a case for how "spirits" from the devil's minions work to use sin nature/hurt to hold believers back from the connectedness in which he exhorted us to experience. Early in the message he had described a spiritual dynamic wherein a believer attempts to move toward God or other believers and the "spirit" assigned to that believer "yanks the chain" he holds over the believer, the sin nature/wound, to keep the soul obstructed from God's fullness. He justified this by reading Daniel's OT account of praying for twenty-one days for the angel who arrives and describes a fight with a demon as the reason for the delay. The remedy for overcoming such "spirit" obstacles is by faith to open one's heart to the power of God, as God's power is greater.

I have been spending a lot of time describing characteristics of life in the spirit. I have never attempted to attach what I am articulating to actual spirit beings of the supernatural, except to state the obvious, the Holy Spirit is the source of our life in the spirit. I have done this purposely. I do not discount the existence or the work of demons in the earth. However, I believe much description given of demons' works is often conjecture with poor support from scripture. (A spirit assigned to a believer to tempt him or her at the precise moment movement toward God is detected? Maybe that's true, but nothing I can establish clearly in the Word and therefore faithfully believe.) It is an easy paint job to describe things going wrong in our personal life as a demon "yanking our chain." I believe much attributed to demons is not the work of demons, but rather issues under the control of the believer; if, and here I am complete agreement with the brother who spoke yesterday, we open our heart in faith.

Again, I think it is useful to separate our sin nature and its impulses in our lives from our hurts and the way that affects our behavior. Scripture offers us much clear instruction on responding to these situations.

We reckon ourselves dead to sin, as our new creature lives past the old way.
We die to ourselves and our hurt.

Chains on the believer in regards to our sin nature are an illusion created by our idolatry. Recognize and repent of loving something more than God the Father and these chains dissolve completely. Chains from hurts that keep one blinded by pain are self imposed as we hold ourselves in constant self-protection mode. Accept in humility the comfort of God and follow His instructions to forgive and forbear.

This list of written remedies in the Word is long and substantive. God provides us emotionally strong and life-filled ways to be, all based on a "spirit" of love to use in response to others and from which to view our earthly lives. All are available to us by placing our faith, our trust, our dependence on the Holy Spirit in residence within us. The written Word lives within us, a living Holy Being, who is the Great I Am. We are granted by the Cross the right to say, "I am in Him."

How does one learn this faith? God provides individualized instruction no speaker can ever begin to touch. The mechanism is our conscience. Listen and obey those inner leanings that are a function of conscience and completely in line with the Word. Life will spring up in the heart.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Elaboration on My Goals

I am thankful this morning for Iris's comments yesterday. I've had this inner pull that something was missing in the post of 6/19, "Heal the Wound." It is one of those consequences of needing others. Left alone, any one person's thoughts and/or statements fail the fullness of the Mind of Christ. This post may seem off topic from the flow of my recent posts on hole and wound, but this will help build meaning for those topics to continue.

My goal is to illustrate how faith brought by a believer to the relationship with Jesus is an understanding of something in the spirit with very real consequences for everyday life lived in the natural. Consider Paul's words in Eph. 3:4-5
4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.
In the search to express "mysteries in Christ," I seek to reach, both for myself and as encouragement to others, what Paul describes later in the same chapter, verses 16-19
16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
While I have focused my thoughts on the believers' experience and attempted thereby to show how one might grow in understanding the "way" of living in the spirit, I have failed to discuss much about the way of the Holy Spirit toward us. If that has left anyone believing that I am somehow suggesting a works effort in gaining God's favor, please hear my heart and mind say, NO.

I believe the Father's favor is fully upon us because of the righteousness of His Son, the Lord Jesus. Nothing we do, say, think or feel as believers has one iota of effect on the Father's love for us nor upon the turning of His favor toward or away from us. Further, the work of Jesus on the Cross is finished. All that was required for crossing the divide between the Divine Heart of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the fallen heart of humanity is accomplished. The only limit to our experience of what God has fully provided, the abundant life of the spirit, is in our response to His provision, and this is the measure of our faith.

Here is a real life example of what motivates this theme in my posts. I am teaching summer school. This group of children represents grades 3-8 and those with a range of limits on their learning abilities. It includes students who would be close to being identified as mentally challenged based on IQ; intelligent kids who won't do homework, thus sending their averages into the failing range; and a host of students who are both weaker in mental abilities and carrying much emotional baggage both from man's depravity while in the hole and the hurt of being wounded by this life. (Friday, a twelve year old boy who I was correcting for using a vulgar term told me his mom had told him visiting porn sites on the internet was OK as long as he didn't do it too much.) As this type student reaches 7th and 8th grade levels, they are challenging to teach.

Within this context, I recently overheard one of my fellow teachers pull an 8th grade girl into the hallway to correct her behavior. The teacher basically unleashed her frustrations in a full verbal confrontation that was heated and passionate. The teacher used phrases such as I don't care what you think and if you're not intelligent enough, etc. The teacher in her frustrations unleashed intimidation with anger to get the student's in-class behavior under control. Here's the kicker, the teacher is a professing Christian.

I cannot condemn her frustrations nor the expression of it. (Been there, done that.) However, it was clearly not profitable for her or the student. Why did she not put herself into the full power of God available to her and confront the student with love and the insight from Christ? Years ago, the group I was in would have simply applied the jargon phrase in the flesh to explain the teacher's behavior. True enough perhaps, but why did she not live that crucial moment in the spirit? As it played out, she most likely confirmed for the student that the world is the harsh and unloving place she has always known.

I think for a variety of reasons many believers do not understand how to be in the spirit. Life in the full provision of God is the means by which Christians may bring the love of God into the disorder of the fallen world in which we live daily. It is like this, God has a power chord in His hand which delivers the power of His Spirit. He stands beside us with our full knowledge and by our request to be part of His life in each and every moment, but if we do not pick up our end of the power chord...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Paths in the Wild Wood

A blog post is such a narrow little slip of words, especially for a talker like me! As I lay awake this morning at 2:00 AM, I stalked from where I have recently been here in the wild wood down a few different paths. The topic of humans in these woods seems a labyrinth, and I felt some... not fear…muddled thinking and self-questioning. What is what? Are my words Truth or opinion? Are these words supporting the life of the believer in the soul?

I answered a few of these in the spirit, and fell asleep again. The reason I began blogging to begin with is an attempt to articulate what I am learning about being in the spirit. As a learning journey, my words remain always a mixture of Truth, both known and sought, and the paltry level of my human understanding. Everything I say has opinion in it, yet drawing from the written Word and from my and others' personal experience with the Holy Spirit is a safe course. Open discussion is the safe boundary of iron sharpening iron over human understanding of Truth.

1. The meaning of in the spirit is held fully by God and only in a limited manner by the believer. (vs. 11 below)
2.The depth of Christian experience is fully dependent on the level of understanding life lived in the spirit. (vs. 12-13)

I Cor. 2:11-13
11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

Reflecting on verse 13, the main reason I resigned being an elder in a local body was a matter of conscience. I had been ordained an elder for twelve years since age thirty. At forty-two, I was overwhelmed by the understanding that I was very immature as a Christian. I was convicted by conscience that I had many spiritual words, but these were not connected with spiritual thoughts. I had begun to distrust my words as simply those of our group’s approach to the gospel. Truth? I just didn’t know. That is, I was gaining awareness that much spiritual pride colored my interpretation of scripture and that my heart was not full of love, nor did I possess the wisdom to give instruction to anyone on how to walk with God. Eighteen years of walking with God began to unravel, or so it felt. (There are those feelings affecting my life again!) I was confident in my Father, but my confidence in much of what I had been taught and believed about Him was undermined by the circumstances of those days.

The words I write to you, Blog-reader, are the gleanings of the last eleven years searching for the meaning of in the spirit. These posts are where I have been, and what I hope we can learn about combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words as taught by the Spirit. This is a search for that which is beautiful in God, but I know I only dimly see. (reference 6/16 post here.)

In the next post, I will return to thinking on hole and wound and the role of the conscience in going deeper into the things of the Spirit.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Heal the Wound

I finished yesterday speaking of God’s perfect guidance within. Likewise His perfect comfort is available, as well. Filling the hole is about growing into who we are as new creatures, and as such, learning an identity that is holy and not of this world. Being healed of the wound is about the new creature experience bringing to the soul the comfort of the Holy Spirit, thus one may be released from all identity with and carrying the burden of all deep hurts that occur in this life.

Sometimes, the pain or even horror of a given experience, be it one staggering moment or a series of events building a deep abuse over time, becomes something by which we find our individual definition. No experience thereafter can occur without remembrance of that pain. We become defined by the hurt, either because we refuse to forget as way of revenge, or often because we work hard to function apart from that pain through some coping mechanism.

This is a huge psychological topic, and I hesitate to suggest healing is easy. Yet, I believe comforting us through and to healing is easy for God. We must be willing to do something which is holy and responsible ourselves.

A few suggestions:

Forgive others and receive forgiveness. If the Cross and the pain of the Atonement mean anything, it is that the power of the Holy Blood of Christ cleanses away anyone’s sin, including one’s own.

Forbear. All those you want to be perfect, or at least just a model of goodness, will fail you at some point. In fact, you’re wanting them to be perfect is an idol in the making. Let them go to be whoever their imperfect self is. Likewise, many in their immaturity cannot bring forth good fruits…yet. Forbearance is at the heart of the golden rule.

Cease being a pleaser, as it opens you to wounding. Recognize this is part of your attempt to fill your own hole.

Understand the short time span in which you live; cry honestly and reveal it to someone you trust, but recognize grief is for a limited period. It is not a way of being emotionally that can support you.

Always return (an act of your will) to accepting God’s comfort when your soul wants the wound to hurt again. Our hearts can be so full of vagary. God is ever faithful. When the pain comes upon you, you are facing a temptation to carry the grief and anger of your hurt again. I Cor. 10:13, (paraphrased) God is faithful in the face of all temptations to hold back from you that which you cannot bear. The size of the temptation is the measure of your maturity in Christ. What determines whether you fall to the pain again or receive the comfort of the Lord is your will to choose.

The real spiritual work is in recognizing how Jesus within you, makes you whole. This wholeness is not because of who you are and not in spite of how you have been hurt. It is the abundant life He came to give. Healing the wound is similar to filling the hole. It is all about faith. Your faith becomes the rope between your heart and the supernatural place where God is the Great I Am.

Trust in the goodness of God.

Fill the Hole

The remedies for the pain of hole and wound appear relatively simple: to fill the hole, find God; to alleviate the pain of the wound, be healed. It is that simple. But … a rambunctious goat butts in here. (This goat and I have butted around often!) Disobedience.

Php 2:12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;

Notice that the daily walk of life after salvation is tied to obedience.

Back up a bit. We are born with this huge gap between our natural, fallen heart and the divine nature of the Holy Father. Even if raised in a Christian home in which words of truth point to Jesus, our response to the way the hole makes us feel is do something to build ourselves a bridge to being filled. Raised in any circumstances, people attack the hole seeking adequacy, or power, or pleasure. The consequence is digging the hole deeper!

Then God has mercy and reveals Himself to the stuck-the-miry-clay soul. Allowing for great variance of individual how’s and why’s, this soul believes in faith that Jesus is the Messiah, sent from God. The Resurrection is real. This we call salvation. The convert lacks knowledge of the way, however. Life is learning this. Life after salvation is learning obedience…in fear and trembling.

At first, the emotional response to the beauty and wonder of what has happened carries the babe forward. As this wanes, the babe believer is likely receiving mixed messages on what obedience means, especially if the soul has entered the door of Jesus through association with a legalistic group. Every time the believer chooses a heart stance toward self-effort disguised as “obedience to God” yet is instead again building his bridge to adequacy, power, or pleasure, the soul has backed away from faith and entered into disobedience.

Though God has done everything needed to fill the hole, the believer unwittingly opens the hole again and begins to dig into the abyss of self. I think we call these times by religious lingo such as, “I am having a dry time with the Lord.” Which is certainly a true statement; but it enables hiding from what is truly going on, the "empty" feeling is a function of disobedience.

The lost person is seen as hiding from God by the Christian. We evangelize by attempting to reason with a lost person saying things like, “You are hiding from God by keeping yourself too busy to hear;” or “You are so absorbed in your pain that you will not let God in.” In either case, the following might be said to the one lost in sin, “Let go of you. Your remedy for the pain is not working. Trust God.”

Do those words not apply to the Christian using religious self-effort? What is the issue?


Obedience to what?

The Word?

Yes, the Word, but this understood through biblical teaching in the NT means Jesus in-dwelling the believer. There is an inward reality that is perfect guidance. Obedience to the Word within fills the hole, places a rock above the spot and gives the believer something to stand upon regardless of all circumstances in life.

Here is the verse above with a little more context:

Php 2:12-13

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Don't Laugh if I Fall in the Hole, and I'll Try Not to Wound You if I Do!

Okay, in my mind, the next logical post tackles the idea of the big hole in our soul. When I said I was tired of the topic, I spoke from a very personal view of wrestling with the hole for years! Sometime, I may give a more personal reflection on my experience of the abyss.

Like so many topics, I find terms are often used interchangeably, which does not fully bring the understanding needed. In this case, hole and wound are such terms. Christian terminology tends to mix these words in describing both our sin nature and the sources of our despairing. Consider the directive of Proverb 2:2 which reads, Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; (I couldn’t resist this one, craig v.!) Analyzing nuances between synonyms or exposing common misusages are helpful toward the end of acquiring understanding. Such analysis often seems nit-picky. It is a fine wire on which to balance; don’t laugh if I fall.

Hole and wound are descriptors of something we know abstractly in our emotional heart, which is the source of how we “feel” inwardly. Using these interchangeably fails clear understanding. However, I often read authors or hear preachers with a bent toward meeting psychological needs never separate these two. Here’s how I would do it:

Hole = the divide between divine and human created by the fall. We are born with the hole. It is the source of our sin, because our first and continuing attempts to address how empty the soul feels (the hole) is the idolatry of self. The manifestations of self are myriad, but are fully described by the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

Wound = the hurt inflicted by life on the soul. Often this wound is the weight of the pain we have inflicted; think not just of being victimized here! However, as wound suggests painful injury, so I think it is best limited to the painful, soul experiences of life.

The purpose of this analysis, you ask? The two different situations, though overlapping, are remedied in different ways. Further, to know the separation and respond accordingly to both one’s self inwardly and others outwardly is a characteristic of an authentic spiritual life in Christ.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Common Need

I have been thinking about what kind of contribution I can make to blog readers. I consider the ones I know personally, those I have come to know through the blog which is our whole continuing contact; as well as, the random ones who skim the current page thanks to a search engine and move on.

Ah, virtual reality--a nut within a shell.

I live real life like that, too. People I know and with whom I purposely maintain a relationship; people with whom I have a limited but continuing relationship, professional colleagues, for example; and random folks, with whom the contact is momentary. Is this a part of the randomness of life or a pattern which reflects the order of things? I once used falling leaves in autumn as a metaphor for random events that were part of a larger order. I saw the leaves as completely random, yet a major component of divine order inside an ecological system. The brother listening to me asked if the intricacies of God’s knowledge and care did not mathematically compute the trajectory of each individual leaf. I answered that I had no answer to his question; his conjecture was possibly true, as was mine.

So we pass through life: wondering, questioning, certain about only a small piece of what we think; perceiving events around us differently from the guy next to us; opportunities gained and lost. I am ok with that…except for one thing. I have this need to matter.

Perhaps it is part of that huge hole within me I have heard spoken of by others. You know the one the sermons say that only God can fill. Henri Nouwen says, “There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible.”

I am kind of tired of the whole hole idea. My friend and I above discussing floating leaves were wrestling with the order of things, us and God being the major components of what we attempt to sort here on earth. I have moved something off my random list. I am not searching for my hole filled anymore. I am satisfied by Jesus, Lord of All, Son of theFather.

I hope you are. If you aren't for some reason, I think you can be.

Hey! That’s what I have to contribute: encouragement to others to find rest for the soul in the Great Filler of Abysses. That fills my need to matter. See?...no more hole. That’s the whole idea.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Time for Group Discussion

We understand only a little, as people first and Christians second. I use “we” because I see myself as part of this larger whole, humanity, then having this wonderful Spirit of God in common with those who profess Christ.

Why and how do we keep away from from being wholly God’s? I recently wrote about idolatry. Idolatry is an issue for some, no doubt; but I think it is a symptom of a larger issue.

Here’s the issue: the eyes of our hearts—read Ephesians 1:18 in context—are not seeing what we might see. In other words, what is beautiful about God which you want to see, but wonder if you do. Why is this so?

Let me hear from you.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Father's Day

First, addressing my comment in January to have a blog post for Father’s Day, I can’t find the essay I had for Father’s Day. Sorry, so goes my life. You would think a school teacher would be more organized. About fourteen years ago, I wrote this short essay on being a father. I thought it would make a good piece for today. When I find it, and I know I will, I may use it for a post in that moment.

When I write for the blog, I am aware that what is clear to me through personal experience may not connect with others. Understandings I have because of my unique experiences as a person contrast with understanding our common humanity. I tend to think and write as if I have discovered a perspective we all should share. This paragraph is a disclaimer. I do not write on this blog as if I think everyone should believe as me. The flip side of that is I have always been fascinated by the why of emotion, and by extension, why the world functions as it does. As a result of my fascination with the inner human, I have come up with answers to satisfy me. Answers I offer here but not because I think these answers should satisfy you, Blog-reader. Seek to know for yourself.

I guess that is a long way to say the following is, “As I see it.”

Commonality is part of the sub-title of this blog. Once I involved myself in a debate over homosexuality with another citizen through the letters-to-the-editor page of a local newspaper. My “opponent” in the debate would describe ironic social circumstances illustrating how illogical humans were; then when having offered no real reasoning, finish with the phrase, “Go figure.” As if meaningful explanation of the situation he described did not, could not exist; so we humans could understand very little about life in the largest sense. His contention basically: we are each trapped in an individual bubble, so my response to life (his sexual orientation) is as equally correct as all others. The writer was attempting to deal with his perception of random circumstances, and thereby justify his feelings.

He was, however, not my opponent. The circumstance of our exchange is correctly labeled “opponents in debate” on a cultural or social level, but the label is incorrect on a universal level. He was my fellow human. The failure to understand commonality of human experience as a universal truth is in part an explanation for war, and I contend among the roots of a divided Christianity. Discovering our commonality and living there is a component of entering a deeper spiritual life.

One thing I understand about us humans. We live based on our feelings. The common person, speaking outside any objective professional training, incorporates feelings into personal decisions and opinions. I think this is an absolute reality. How often in public, when close enough to overhear a conversation between two people discussing something of import to them, can the phrase, “I feel” be picked up? Very often! Listen for it when someone is deeply involved in a topic; the words fall away from social parameters, and he or she expresses the inward being. The phrase "I feel" will be voiced. Listen when someone is speaking casually and simply voices an opinion, those same words will be heard.

Believe it or not, this post is about Father’s Day. One thing all humans have in common is a relationship with a father. If all a person knows is that there is no emotional relationship, father was just the source of half the chromosomes, such lack is the basis of what is felt about the word father. One thing all humans need is a relationship with Father, Creator of the Universe. Our common experiences with fathers and fatherhood are at the core of why we feel the things we feel. Our common experience of Father, which may be either knowing or rejecting Him, is the core of all meaning.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Impotent Idols, Final

This series posits a notion that in the modern experience of life, the idea of personal self has become the chief idol of the masses.

Even a professing Christian may fail to recognize how the sense of living one’s life is placed ahead of living unto Him. There are many reasons for this I suppose. I believe it is something folks need to think about, if they honestly want to walk in the spirit and not simply adhere to religious doctrine.

In the Old Testament, there are a number of false gods mentioned, and these are associated with literal idols. Two of the most conspicuous are Baal and Molech. Temples to Baal were, in effect, houses of prostitution; and the worship of Baal was a celebration of licentiousness. Molech was a god of violence, and live babies were sacrificed to literal fire built inside the belly of the image. It doesn’t require much imagination to identify human sexual lust and its cousin, blood lust as being driving forces that shaped these pagan religions. Nor does it require much insight to recognize modern society, particularly our US expression, is highly motivated by these same mental- emotional forces.

The pursuit and development of knowledge has turned the study of human behavior, individually and collectively, into sciences. Prominent among these are psychology, sociology and anthropology. As an education major and teaching professional, I have had a smattering of classes in all three. With little creativity, I have understood that the Christian religion and these sciences were talking about the inner-man and the larger societal implications of living outwardly from inward places. The longer I have read and thought within these disciplines and compared them to the Scripture, the clearer it becomes a matter of semantics that what Christians call the “soul” modern man labels the “psyche”. The conventional wisdom of man attempts to understand the inward man (and gets it wrong), while the wisdom of God has revealed who and what we are.

Modern science asks, “How is the inward man shaped?” and finds for answers only rationales forged within the limits of the humans' natural existence. The Christian must ask, “What does it mean to live in the spirit of Christ?” and in so doing seek and find the reality of drawing life from a Source who is beyond our natural world.

If one sees the issues of Christianity and the Christian life as simply a moral way to behave, there is no fundamental difference between such a perspective and the modern sciences. Man has become an object to be analyzed, understood, and educated for the achievement of a higher quality existence. Using Scripture as the major source of education doesn’t alter the weakness of this understanding regarding what is going on in the earth. Rather the Christian faith demands that we wrestle with how to connect with God beyond our rhetoric and practices, thus entering into Him being our source, all in all. If we fail such, those watching may truly assume there is no meaning to the doctrine of regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual problems require spiritual remedies. Undoing the power of idolatry, or the spirit that fills one who is focused on self, must come as one learns a focus on Jesus resulting in His spirit as the source by which one lives. When the spirit by which a person breathes life is the True Source, the behavior of the individual will radically alter.

Interrupting the discussion...

I hope to have the next and last part of the current series on idolatry posted by 6/11. I am back to teaching again in the summer school session.

I did see a movie over the weekend. The Great Debaters with Denzel Washington. The whole idea of movies is deeply tied to thinking about idolatry in our lives.

Any thoughts from readers on this?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Impotent Idols Part 3

In this post, I would like to consider two consequences of idolatry in the life of the believer. These are loss of authority in loving others and an undermined faith, two fairly significant aspects of walking with Father.

First, we should examine two sections of Scripture in which Paul addresses the issue of idolatry to Christians. These are I Cor. 10 and Col. 3:1-5.

I Corinthians 10 is a whole chapter themed by idolatry. It begins with a discussion of the failure of the Hebrews in the wilderness to fully discern the spiritual evidence of Christ in their experience and consequently to fall into idolatry listed first followed by other sins. This history is explained as an example for NT believers (vs. 11), then Paul says the following:

12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

This is followed by a discussion of when and when not to eat meat sacrificed to idols.

The conclusion I posit is that idolatry in the NT believer’s life is central to sin, and the issue is NOT small statuary! Consider that after Paul has stated that we are able to stand against every temptation we face, he exhorts us to flee idolatry. However, he then describes a way of dealing with meat sacrificed to idols which clearly assumes that statues have no power or meaning in the lives of believers. Idolatry is, by inference of the total chapter, not about worshiping actual statues.

In the second Scripture reference, Col. 3: 1-5, the last words are

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

Greed is idolatry. (Since the translators have chosen to use the singular form of amounts, idolatry here refers only to greed and not the whole list. I can only assume that is a correct rendition of the original.) The love of great gain is the root of all evil. Wanting more for ourselves is NT idolatry.

In the Lord of the Rings, as Frodo quests for Mordor, we are often given a view of a form for the great evil source against which he struggles. It is a tower, topped by a single eyeball. Did you notice this form is in the shape of a lower-case “i”? Tolkien’s symbolism for evil could not be more lucid. The singular, lowly sense of self raised up as power and full of greed.

When we allow our own life to be the end of why we are living life, though we may claim Christ, our experience will be selfishness itself and none of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. A Christian, who does not deal with their idolatry of self, will find they struggle with unloving attitudes toward others. Such a believer cannot find the source of love, as the idol has been placed before Him. Hence, when in fellowship with others, the spoken “I love you, I will pray for you, I care about you,” will lack authenticity. The words will ring hollow in one’s own heart and in the spiritual connection between the believers.

Further, in interacting with the lost, such a Christian will speak one way and feel differently in the heart. It is possible to speak words intended to evangelize or demonstrate empathy and feel no compassion. This is a state lacking authority, and has no effective, positive, life-giving spiritual bearing on the hearer!

Additionally, such a person who trusts basically in his or her own righteousness will interpret all of life’s obstacles and trials as a game of blessing and cursing between self and God. This is not a position of faith. In this scenario, the individual calls the mental assent to the Truth of Jesus to be faith. However the practice of trusting in Jesus is lost and replaced by trusting in one’s own works.

It boils down to this: Seeking to gain materially (and I do not intend the term to be limited to stuff but inclusive of all of our natural body experience) under the guise of experiencing God’s blessing, is seeking to gain one’s own life and life will be lost. It fails the faith God would lead the believer into, when God is a force that helps one achieve the desired car, the desired job, or in anyway is a construct of the imagination that simply supports the image we hold for the self. Rather in the actual experience of God in a relationship, we seek to lose our total sense of self image and self desire in order to worship Christ alone, to hold Him in the heart in communion as a state of abiding in the love of God; and He brings to pass abundant life, a spiritual state, as part of His own.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Impotent Idols Part II

Well, my wife’s critique of the last post is, “It didn’t sound like conversation by the clothesline.” Yeah, the last post didn’t make the everyday conversational cut, I know. However, as the basis for a continuing topic, it struck me as necessary. Perhaps part II resonates a bit more with practical living.

I have recognized through my experience of regeneration in the Spirit of Christ how blind I have been to my “idols” and all to the detriment of my walk with Father. Consider Isaiah 44: 9-20. The prophet describes a man who fashions an idol out of wood with half a tree and uses the other half for fuel and cooking. Certainly I have never blatantly fashioned a wooden statue and declared it to be my god. However, there are descriptions of human experience from Isaiah 44 pertinent to thinking about our modern day idols.

“He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house.” He bows down to this object and prays, "Deliver me, for you are my god."

Consider my assertion that an idol simply reflects back to the idolater a sense of self. In this OT scripture, the power of the idol is nothing. Another verse in the selection describes the wood used to make the idol as useful for fire, alluding that the chemistry of fire from wood is only attributable to the One True God. Yet, the human who is the subject of the reference, replicates the “beauty” of man, something the human aspires to no doubt at some level of the imagination, and he then dispatches trust upon the object. My inference is self-inspired work and emotional hope concerning this person’s future destiny wrapped up in an image of... him who made the idol.

In our world, overt idolatry conferring imaginary supernatural power to objects does occur within world religions and modern paganism. (Christian relics, icons, and much hyped and marketed Christian stuff are a related discussion, no doubt.) The crystal rock is an example. This is fairly easy to recognize and identify. However, I believe the more powerful idolatry is our cultural fascination with self. Self-help books, pop-psychologies in magazine articles and respected medical journalism focused on substantive scientific research all address issues of self-image. Educational strategies focus on the development of self-esteem. Encouragements from gift shop posters to main line pulpit sermons lift up the power of having a personal dream and persevering to achieve such. The plethora of these examples is exhausting!

Let’s reduce this to “clothesline” conversation. Ever bought a car? How did it make you feel? Brand new or just used but sporty and the first little while of driving probably made you feel pretty good. (I bought a brand new Mercury Capri at age 18, and these feelings of self-worth tied to the car persisted well past the new stage!) Did it cross your mind how others perceived your purchase? Or, what if you had to purchase an old vehicle with some rust or dents? How did you feel driving that vehicle?

The levels of personal emotional response to this modern world activity are certainly diverse. Nonetheless, if not the car, then something else has perhaps evoked a strong personal awareness that the activity/object caused feelings either positive or negative associated with how you imagined others perceived you. Ever wear a new suit or dress? Is this wrong or just natural?

It is natural, and the natural man is from whom we need salvation! This is my exact point. When we live our lives making choices which spring from our natural desires for ourselves, I suggest we have made ourselves an idol.

Next up: consequences of living as our own idol even as we profess Christ.