Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I am loved by the King, and it makes my heart want to sing! Though lameness and brokenness still mark my life (and always will), I am re-defined by the radical love of my Prodigal God, who lavishes love on the broken sinner.
Monday, April 26, 2010
First, it is fascinating to me to read about how the brain functions when we as humans are engaged in relationship, and particularly when engaged in porn. Though the information got pretty technical and difficult to understand, I was fascinated nonetheless. I am amazed how God "wired" us for relationship, and what damage is done through exposure to the pornographic image. Some of the fascinating facts I remember (sorry I don't have page references):
- the development of the male fetus into an adult is pretty much completely dominated by testosterone.
- during and after a woman's pregnancy and childbirth, she produces certain chemicals that provoke the male brain to produce chemicals in response that makes him (me) more willing to care for and help her!
Second, this book adds new light and depth to the familiar adage, "Sow an act...reap a habit; Sow a habit...reap a character; Sow a character...reap a destiny" (George Dana Boardman). Our habits affect us neurologically, especially addictions. Our difficulty in overcoming bad habits (esp. addictions) is due in part to the "neurological troughs" we have created. Likewise, creating new habits involves laying down new neurological paths. Sanctification involves our brains, in ways that we don't normally consider (not just for studying Scripture).
Third, Struthers has much that is helpful to say about the specific challenges men face in following Christ. These are the most helpful parts of the book, but without the brain research behind them they would lack the deep impact that he was able to bring.
Our "neurological pathways" are one of the means God has designed for the process of our sanctification, or being made like Christ. Paying attention to the design of my brain, esp. in regards to porn, not only strengthens my resolve to apply grace to maintain healthy and holy thought patterns, but shows me God's wisdom and grace in designing us for relationship.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Brett McCracken, writing in Christianity Today reflects on his experience in attending both the "Together for the Gospel" conference in Louisville, and the NT Wright conference at Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL). His reflections (an opinion piece, to be sure, and not reflective of CT) resonate with my blog posts last week (see 4/14). McCracken writes:
But there is a fundamental difference between the approaches of each group to unity. At T4G, which this year had the theme "The (Unadjusted) Gospel," unity often means keeping the heresies out. To be unified is to fight "together for the gospel" against the inroads, questions, and reexaminations that some Christians are undertaking. Speakers at the Wheaton conference at times had points of real disagreement with Wright (though they were all clearly on board with his main points and themes). T4G, by contrast, was more like a club patting each other on the back for their mutual buttressing of the "unadjusted gospel" against threats from various corners.
For the T4G folks, protecting disputed doctrines against heresy is where good theology is born. Clear thinking comes from friction and protestation, from Hegelian dialectics (R.C. Sproul spoke on this), but not from compromise. The Patristic Fathers got it right whenever they were ironing out disputed doctrines and fighting against heresy, said Ligon Duncan in his talk. But on matters that were not disputed, he said, their thought sometimes got muddled up.
The exact opposite point was made at the Wheaton Conference by Kevin Vanhoozer, professor of systematic theology at Wheaton, who suggested that theologians like Wright (and, presumably Christians in general) are more often correct in matters they collectively affirm than in matters they dispute. This statement reflects the contrasting spirit of the Wheaton Conference as regards unity: It's what we affirm that matters. Are we on the same page on the core issues? Can we agree on the claims of the creeds? Yes? Then let's hash out the details of theological minutia (which is definitely important) in a spirited, friendly debate as the people of God exercising the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2).[side note: I would take Vanhoozer over any of the T4G guys any day! His theological sophistication is only matched by his desire to participate in the theodrama of the gospel.]
The highlight of T4G for me was the singing of classic hymns like "And Can it Be" and "It is Well" with 7,000 fervent voices all in one accord. And at the Wheaton conference, I was most moved by a final prayer in a packed auditorium where hands were laid on Wright as we prayed for him and his ministry. It strikes me that unity is most viscerally experienced in moments like this: singing songs together, praying in concert, in fellowship with one another.
What if both conferences had merged and two seemingly antagonistic groups of Christians put aside their differences for a few minutes to just sing (in both conferences the hymn "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" was sung), side-by-side, in worship of the triune God who gives the same grace through which all who follow Christ have been saved? That would be a unity the rulers of the world would truly be afraid of.I think the "both conferences" kind of unity would be much more welcome from the Wheaton crowd than the Louisville crowd.
Brett McCracken blogs at The Search.
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19 NIV)
Yesterday I was hit with a health care "bombshell" that our insurance would cost us another $2000 this coming year. Since we could barely afford the level it's at, I was more than anxious and disappointed. As I considered the all-too-familiar thoughts of my old self/orphan self:
"God won't provide."
"This is it, the doom I've been expecting."
"This is further proof of my worthlessness, and my abandonment by God."
For the first time, I felt a choice before me - did I want to embrace this familiar path, or go down a new one? God was calling me to trust him, and I felt drawn to a new path. I started indulging in new thoughts:
"This is a familiar place of need. I can recount many times of being overwhelmed with financial need and God has always come through."
"I am not abandoned, He is with me."
"Rather than this being a curse that says "I'm worthless," it is actually a blessing saying "He loves me" because of how close I will need to stay to Him."
"This is a gift to keep us close to Him."
Last night on my walk I felt that embracing this new "limit" as a gift from my Father who loves me placed my soul in wide open spaces. I felt myself breathing deeply, confident in the future grace of my Abba to meet our needs. In contrast, when I interpret my limits as curses and further evidence of my worthlessness, my soul is cramped and unable to breathe deeply. Even if I could manufacture a means to generate more "margin" with my financial limits (go out and get $10,000 for example, as if I could), my soul would still be bound to the limits of my bank account, and subject to the temporary "security" and "control" they provide (at least, until the next financial limit comes). But when my soul's boundaries are not bound to the limits of my bank account, they are free to be bound to the limitless limits of God's grace, which opens up an entire world of freedom and peace!
Though I stand on a precarious cliff, he makes my feet firm and my path wide.
Those who know me well know that I have always struggled with financial anxieties, so this is a major shift for me. I thank God for his grace at work in me to take steps forward in this journey with Him.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I am praying more for a fullness of the Spirit to be poured out on my life and those around me, not only in gifts to build up the church, but in power to walk in the fruit of the Spirit, and especially in our new self identities as his beloved children; for He is not just the Spirit who gives gifts, but the Spirit of adoption and Sonship (Romans 8).
I have even started to pray in tongues again. The "language" has never left me, I've always been able to recall it. From my experience it shrinks from lack of use. As I have begun to use it again in my devotional times, it is growing again, slowly. I pray that it will continue to grow as my surrender to Jesus deepens.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Sometimes this stripping away is merely a noticeable inconvenience. A twinge of pain and guilt after being hurt by anothers comments; a compulsion to appear wise and spiritual to others so that they will love me, an nervous awareness of how much I want to be liked when in a group, etc. Other times it pushes me to the borders of insanity, a darkness and heaviness so great that I feel like I will surely be destroyed by it. Graciously, this latter, more intense form is not very common. After yesterdays "waves" crashed over me, I felt strangely peaceful, like a countryside after extreme weather crashes through; there is often a peaceful sunbreak with a sense of freshness. I have hope that yesterday's storm accomplished something in the kingdom; that there are a limited number of such waves to come my way in my lifetime as I fight for satisfaction in God above all other things.
Hopefully, I will not speak so flippantly about God "stripping away" our comforts, for it can be a wholly terrifying experience.
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Friday, April 16, 2010
As I stood there (with Jesus by my side) I looked at the pathways that went to the right of the line and saw those with whom I have felt bitterness over God's providence in their lives being so different (and more acceptable) than mine, and I knew in my heart that God was in those pathways too.
I felt freedom to raise my hand in blessing towards those brothers and say, "bless you." I realized that my own pathway insecurities (insecure that my path with Jesus is not a legitimate one) cause me to lash out at others whose pathway is different (usually easier, more "successful" and light-filled), when in reality Jesus is just as much in their journeys as he is in mine (though maybe there is a necessarily greater depth the further toward the "left" that one's path goes). I let go of being the "corrector" of those on the right and received the reality and integrity of my own path. I felt able to leave the outcome of this dark journey in Jesus' hands, wherever it leads, even if it doesn't lead to the "lighter" side.
I also had clarity on when those on the right call to me (and others) to join them through various means. It is not bad for them to call out to others to follow them, it's natural for a vibrant vine to call attention to itself as "light of the world." It is part of its beauty and vibrancy. Correspondingly, the darker lines like mine have a more muted message - "follow me, but things may get really rough, so don't do it lightly. God is a consuming fire." Often though I feel I have to somehow cajole and polish my line so that it looks more like those lighter lines. I am free from having to prove myself. I can, in freedom, say "no, that is not part of my journey, brothers. But be blessed on your journey." I feel a little more free to affirm what is good and right in those lighter lines while not ignoring the weaknesses and deficiencies.
I guess I am no longer defined by their (or my) deficiencies, but the sufficiency of Christ who is "the way, the truth and the life," and also "the vine."
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Thursday, April 15, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Looking at the conference topics, I am struck by how most of them focus on maintaining the "boundaries" of the gospel (the theme this year is "The Unadjusted Gospel"). It seems that every time they do this conference, this is the focus. It is symbolic of the "young, restless and reformed" group's growing entrenchment in a new fundamentalism. It can appear to be a Reformed back-slapping session, where "This is the Gospel," and "Get the gospel right," "My friends Al, Ligon, Mark, etc. have the gospel right, and if you want to be in their club, you will too" charge the atmosphere.
I am all for maintaining the truths of the gospel in a pluralistic culture and an biblically illiterate church; but what I oppose is so focusing on these truths that we forget what the gospel is for - intimate relationship with God!! I feel that there is an imbalance here, a dangerous one in which we can be so easily duped into thinking that if we only hold the right doctrines of the gospel, we are right with God! (even the demons do this) Even worse, we can come to believe that our doctrinal precision and fervency is the same thing as an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ!
Using the analogy of the Tabernacle/Temple after Jesus' death, it is like the priests and Pharisees are arguing over the location and condition of the sacrificial altar, table of showbread, and the menorah, when the way into the Holy of Holies has been torn wide open! It is tragic to think that "maintaining the boundaries" keeps God's children from entering his presence.
Martin Luther talked of the doctrine of Justification by Faith as being the hinge upon which the Reformation swung. A pastor lecturing on Luther in a similar conference (Stephen Beck, a Reformed pastor from Canada) reminded us that this is true, and the door itself is intimacy with God!
Let's remember to maintain the truths and boundaries of the gospel, but even more importantly let's remember to stand on these truths as we lift up our hands in pursuit of an intimate relationship with God that inflames both head and heart. Otherwise, the conference might as well be called WHIT4G - or, We Have It Together For the Gospel.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Thursday, April 08, 2010
I have begun recently to realize that I have indeed quenched the Spirit in several areas of my life. In my response to charismatic extremes, I have despised prophecy. I have also tried to operate in my spiritual gifts in ways that were not dependent on the Spirit, whose gifts they are. I have acted as if I am an owner of my gifts rather than merely a dependent steward.
But recently another thought has occurred to me - since my flesh (old self/false selves) wars against the Spirit, then indulging in these is another way of quenching the Spirit, or putting the Spirit's fire out. If the Spirit is the Spirit of sonship (and he is) then when I live as an orphan trying to earn acceptance then I am quenching the Spirit too (Gal 5:16-26; Romans 8:5-16).
All of these ways are ways of independently trying to find life apart from God. Each of these ways quenches the Spirit's work in my life. I am seeking to surrender afresh to the Spirit in repentance in all these areas. I need prayer.
grieving the Spirit (Eph 4:30)
resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51)
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
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Tuesday, April 06, 2010
I feel the Spirit stirring many things in me, reminders of my Charismatic/Pentecostal background, making me seriously wonder if some of the deficiencies in my experience (lack of power, hope, etc.) are not in some part (or large part) due to a quenching of the Spirit. One of the things I wanted to share here were some of the reasons I pulled away from the tradition (the Spirit?) back in the early 1990's:
1. I was experiencing a deep depression and the theology of suffering I encountered in my circles of Pentecostalism left a lot to be desired. I was rebuked and challenged to "have more faith" and "just pray." I found much solace in a reformed view of God and the world during this time. Unfortunately, my journey into the Reformed faith could not be reconciled to the life of the Spirit, and so I pulled away from any expression of it. I threw myself more determinedly into a study of the Scriptures.
2. I was ashamed of the extremists and afraid I might be lumped in with them. The possibility (and reality) of abuses seemed too much trouble to sort through to find and experience the real thing. I threw out the baby with the bath water, maybe?
3. For years, I have felt secure in holding an "open but cautious" view of the gifts of the Spirit (see the 4 views book edited by Wayne Grudem), but have come to wonder if this isn't just being continuationist in theology but cessationist in practice. This has appeared to me (since starting to read Storms) as lacking integrity and very likely being disobedient. If I believe that they are for today, but won't practice or encourage others to practice them, what does that say about me and my state of surrender before the Lord? If they are not for today, then I should fully confess that. I don't think I can stay on the fence any more.
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Monday, April 05, 2010
I recently attended a unique mens retreat in which space was provided for the men present to be broken and transparent before God and other men. The result was deep change and healing for many present. As I reflect on the dynamics of the retreat, it occurred to me that a significant factor in being transformed by God into the image of Christ is the level of broken transparency we bring to relationships in general, but particularly with God.
The level of transparent reality we bring into relationship with God and others greatly affects how intimate we are capable of being and subsequently, how much transformation we experience. True intimacy in relationships depends on the trust and safety of exposed hearts, and these hearts are changed as they commune together with God through Christ. There is something healing about exposing your heart to another safe person.
The problem is that we are often "veiled" in our relationships through defense mechanisms, false selves, and sinful habits of hiding and manipulating. If our inner world is veiled to ourselves (through a lack of self-awareness) and others, we are incapable of deep relationships. Out of a sense of self-protection, we often work and maneuver ourselves to maintain distance and control in our relationships. When we make a choice to stop this pattern though, there is great potential for intimacy and healing. We can "un-veil" ourselves before God and others through confession, transparency and authenticity. Such authenticity requires taking risks in our relationships, risks in laying down our false selves in the presence of others. When our inner world is un-veiled to ourselves and others in the presence of God, there is great potential for transformation, healing and growth in Christ-likeness to occur.
As tempting as it is for those who are troubled and hurting (and those of us who counsel them) to make transformation the goal of transparent relating, it is not. Transformation is not the reason we are transparent and authentic - intimacy is - intimacy with God and others. When transformation becomes the goal, our transparency can become manipulation, an attempt to barter with God. A false self that presents itself as authentic can work to earn love. When intimacy is our goal however, transformation is a side effect that is left completely in the hands of our sovereign and good God. God has designed us for relationship, and the more of "us" that is unveiled in the context of safe relationship with him and others, the promise we have from Scripture is that we shall be changed. But this change rarely occurs in the way and at the rate we desire, so it is necessary to stress that deeper relationship is the goal of transparent relating.
Perhaps it is helpful to differentiate between brokenness and transparency for the sake of clarity. Transparency can be defined simply as the absence of pretense or deceit, an honest acknowledgment of what is in the heart and mind, without any judgment as to the goodness or badness of what is revealed. Brokenness (in a biblical sense) adds to transparency a repentant sorrow for what is in the heart and mind along with a desperate desire for Jesus to grant healing and forgiveness. Broken, transparent intimacy is at the heart of biblical discipleship (e.g., "blessed are the poor in spirit," and "blessed are the pure in heart" (Matt. 5:3, 8). This is developed in two key texts, 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 and Hebrews 10:19-25.
"But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the
Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with
unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the
same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who
is the Spirit." (2 Cor. 3:16-18 ESV)
The ESV Study Bible note on 2 Cor 3:16 is helpful here - "Just as Moses was able to enter into God's presence without a veil (Ex. 34:34) so too when one turns to the Lord in faith, the veil of separation from God and incomprehension of him brought about by a hardened heart is removed" (emphasis mine). The more we turn to the Lord in faith, the more we are un-veiled. In Christ, we can come before God and one another without the veils of our false selves and all our sinful attempts to find life without God. These veils have been removed with Christ's death and resurrection for us.
At Jesus' death, the curtain or veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51), opening the holiest presence of God to all people who trust in Christ's sacrifice. Once the most dangerous place for sinners, the holy presence of God is now the safest place for the broken and the sinful because of the new and living way of Christ. The implications of this are staggering for us.
"So, friends, we can now-without hesitation-walk right up to God, into "the Holy
Place." Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our
priest before God. The "curtain" into God's presence is his body. So let's do
it-full of belief, confident that we're presentable inside and out. Let's keep a
firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let's
see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding
worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see
the big Day approaching. (Heb 10:19-25 The Message)
Through the sacrifice of Christ, we are enabled to come before him without timidity or pretense. Indeed, we are called to come before Him with boldness, transparency and unveiled confession, knowing that we shall be completely accepted, loved and forgiven. We can be "confident that we're presentable inside and out," which takes the pressure off us to perform or pretend. As we do this with brothers and sisters in Christ we shall be changed as we together behold His glory - for this is why we were made.
As I ran with Peter and John in excitement and fear to the tomb on Sunday morning, I peered over their shoulders to peek inside. I was anxiously looking for that which was previously mine, the "baggage" of sin and death that was uniquely mine. IT WAS GONE!! In the brilliance of resurrection light and life my sin baggage had been annihilated! I heard a voice whisper into my ear, "the baggage died with it's owner." The owner of my sin was no longer me, but Jesus! When he died my baggage died with Him! I rejoice in this truth and pray that I'll live into the freedom of it.
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Saturday, April 03, 2010
all the chaos and confusion in my life
my false selves
all my attempts to find life without God
When Jesus rises and the stone is rolled away, what will happen to these things? Will I take them back up again? I reckon myself to be dead to these things, and alive to God, because Holy Saturday is not the end of the story.
Friday, April 02, 2010
As a Christian this "belief" is not at the level of my conscious thought, but rather an underlying assumption to all of life that largely goes unchallenged. I see it when others compliment me and I minimize it; I see it when I fail and rage against myself in self-hatred; I see when I imagine someone else (anyone else, really) doing a better job as a father, husband, employee, etc. Certainly this is not what Jesus had in mind with the concept of humility. It makes me think of a line from an Andrew Peterson song, "I have cursed the man you have made me to be."
How do I go about embracing my significance in a way that accepts myself as both broken and beloved? How can I stand with broken confidence in the fact that God has made me unique, that no one can replace me in all my spheres of influence and relationships? Isn't this the irony of humility - owning who I am before God? As a broken sinner made in the image of God, I am unique, glorious, beloved, depraved, warped and broken.
When I minimize my significance I fail to love myself and love others. I only allow the reality of "beloved" to go so far. I also am not available to my wife and children (for example) as one who is uniquely positioned to bless and lead them. I abdicate some of that responsibility and privilege through my self-hatred. I minimize their assessment of me (they love me!) and thus minimize their hearts, which is patently unfair.
Somehow, I think, that the key is in the balance of "broken and beloved." I believe in my head that this is who I am. Why can't I accept the reality in my heart?
Graciously, God is at work to do what I cannot. I can testify that the self-hatred is no where near as vitriolic as it was even 2 years ago. I give thanks to him on this Good Friday, that with the death of Christ, all my old-self expressions were crucified with him - self-hatred, religious performer, know-it-all, judge, etc. I rest in that once again.
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