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The Apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  Throughout the epistles he exhorts us to do the same.  Recently, I’ve sensed the Lord highlighting some of the childish things that need to be put away.

 

First and foremost, a child is self-centered.  A baby has no capacity to concern itself with whether its parents are tired or busy or sick, it just knows that it’s not comfortable (e.g. hungry, wet, gassy, tired) and it demands immediate attention.  Presumably, as we get older, our awareness of other people and their struggles grows, but in times of trouble we can easily return to our infancy, becoming blind and numb to anything other than our own wants, needs, or pain.

 

As a baby grows into a child it becomes increasingly responsive to external stimuli, like light, color, noise, music, touch… and through this it learns to interact with the world around it.  Eventually, these external forces begin to shape the child’s concept of life and identity.  But as we grow in spiritual maturity, we’re called to become less responsive to what is seen (which is perishing), and more sensitive to what is unseen (which is eternal).

 

Young children tend to easily fall into covetousness when they see something they want, jealousy when someone else has what they want, and to have tantrums, when they don’t get what they want.  It is not a given that age and experience will cause us to grow past these things.  Often, we simply become more subtle in the ways we express them.

 

Children are also famous for their impatience and fertile imaginations, both of which can become powerful tools in the hands of the adversary.

 

Indeed, the scripture admonishes us to humbly esteem others above ourselves, to bless and serve those around us, and to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”.   It commands us not to covet, warns us against the “acts of the flesh” (including jealousy, selfish ambition, fits of rage) and reminds us that “self-control” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It tells us that we must cast down our imaginations, to learn to “wait on the Lord”, and to embrace patience as a reflection of Christ’s character.  Throughout the New Testament it speaks of the transformation that God desires to work in each of us, and He assures us that He is faithful to complete this good work that He’s begun in us.

 

It’s likely that none of us want to think of ourselves as being childish, but I sense the Lord challenging us to allow Him to reveal the “childish things” that we still need to put away.  To uncover those instances where we’ve become callous and numb to other people’s pain, or those circumstances that we’ve unwittingly become slaves to, or those things that we’re coveting and maybe even making into idols.  To show us those places within our heart where self-pity, jealousy, and bitterness dwell; and to expose the imaginings that have replaced the genuine prophetic vision He means to give us.

 

Like David did in the Psalms, we need to invite Him to examine our hearts.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”.  Amen.

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The proverbial “We” or “Us” (i.e. people who share our values/worldview) have a tendency to put our hate in a different category than the hate spread by the proverbial “Them” (i.e. people who don’t share our values/worldview). We see “Them” as haters, and view their hate as toxic. While we consider our brand of hate as being justified, and maybe even virtuous. Whether it is a hatred of Donald Trump, or Nancy Pelosi, of religion, or godlessness, of Socialism, or Capitalism, of Conservatives or Liberals or any one of the million other things we choose to hate, it all mixes together to create the same poisonous atmosphere. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. We won’t get better as a society by continuing to berate, mock, taunt, protest, boycott, slander, threaten and attack each other. As Dr. King rightly concluded, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”   

 

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More sickening than the Pornographers and the Sex Traffickers are those who create the incredible demand for what they do.

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I’ve seen a lot of whimsical thoughts posted about the new year, but after more than half a century on the planet it comes down to this for me.  The coming year will undoubtedly feature moments of exhilaration, and of disappointment; sunny days and storms; periods of monotony, and others filled with unscripted drama.  Each day will come with a thousand reasons to be sad or mad, while joy will only be found by those who diligently seek it. None of us has much control over the elements that swirl around our existence, but we have a great deal of say in how we respond to them.  If we don’t learn to overcome the hurts of the past, they will most certainly overcome us.  If we don’t take control of our thoughts and fears, they will undoubtedly take control of us.  If we refuse to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes, we are bound to keep repeating them.  And if we try to govern people and circumstances that are outside our control, we will only frustrate and exhaust ourselves.  As the old prayer goes, God grant me the strength to change the things I can change, the patience to live with the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.  There are blessings in this new year, but Amazon Prime won’t be delivering them to our door step.

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The scripture teaches that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds”, or maybe more clearly, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds”. But I wonder to what degree we really understand what a “stronghold” is, or how to identify them in our lives.

 

The definition of a stronghold is a place that has been fortified so as to protect it against attack, a place where a particular cause, attitude or belief is strongly defended. In the context in which Paul was speaking it would be a cause, attitude or belief that is not from, or may even be counter to God, which we have accepted as truth.  Once established, it can become a conduit for the enemy of our souls to speak and work in our lives.

 

Though distorted mindsets can develop through faulty teaching (e.g. racism) or even just a bad example, strongholds are more often cultivated through first-hand experience; and generally speaking, the more traumatic the experience, the more powerful the potential for it to result in a stronghold.

 

While these experiences are a key element, it is actually the conclusions we draw from them that form the basis of the stronghold. For instance, a man abandons his wife and children with no warning or explanation.  The wife concludes that he must have been unhappy because she wasn’t as physically attractive as she’d been when they first married, and thus develops an obsession with losing weight, which ultimately leads to an eating disorder.  The enemy tells her that if she were just younger, or thinner, or prettier, then she’d be worthy of love.

 

Their daughter, who felt like she was daddy’s little princess, concludes that everyone who says they love you will eventually leave you, resulting in a jealous insecurity that poisons all of her future relationships, and compels her to be promiscuous. For her, the enemy becomes a type of translator, encouraging her to interpret every little action as the beginning of an inevitable abandonment or betrayal.

 

Their son, who deeply admired his father, concludes that men were never meant to be tied down to one person, and struggles to commit to anything. Whenever he starts to feel close to someone, the enemy reminds him not to fall into the trap his father did.

 

In truth, none of those conclusions are accurate, but through this deeply painful experience an emotional and spiritual stronghold is formed, which then becomes a channel for further damage. No doubt the Lord wants to tell the mother that she is the apple of His eye, and that physical beauty is a fleeting thing; and to assure the daughter that He will never leave her, nor forsake her; and to remind the son that a woman was created in response to what He saw missing in a man, and that there is a wholeness that can only be experienced through that union.  But if the stronghold is powerful enough, they may not have ears to hear any of those words.

 

Because these things are generally held in the most remote and protected regions of our being, we can be completely oblivious to their existence. Intellectually, the wife can vehemently defend that her former husband’s action was in no way her fault, but in the deepest part of her heart she doesn’t believe that’s true. Like her, we can all develop a blind spot, which allows the enemy unencumbered access to that area of our life.

 

While identifying the specific nature of a stronghold isn’t always easy, there are some readily identifiable patterns that seem to accompany their presence. Recognizing these patterns in our lives can become the first step toward our recovery.

 

One such pattern is the tendency to personalize situations and to perceive them as personal attacks, even when they are seemingly innocuous and involve total strangers. The person who cut you off on the highway didn’t just fail to see you, they did it purposely because they thought they were better than you, or because of the car you drive, or because of the bumper sticker you have, or…  Like little ones on the playground, you’ll swear that “they did that on purpose” even if there is no logical reason to believe they did.

 

Closely related to that pattern is the penchant for being easily “triggered”, which causes your reactions to be completely off base in relation to what is actually happened. The clearest example I can give of being “triggered” is something I witnessed while I was in the Navy.

 

During those years, guys routinely messed with each other and rough housed. One day, a big guy named Bo snuck up on a smaller guy named Jim, and grabbed from behind.  Jim let out a blood curdling scream, and rammed Bo into a piece of machinery, causing him to let him go.  When Bo released him, Jim turned and furiously began to pummel Bo with his fists.  Eventually, it took five guys to restrain Jim, and keep him from killing Bo.

 

At the time, Jim’s reaction didn’t make any sense to us, but we later learned that his step-father had molested him for years, and that what he was experiencing at that moment wasn’t his friend playing a practical joke on him, he was reliving the terror of a 5 year old being raped by his step-father. Sadly, this episode cost Jim his career.  Though it is an extreme example, it drives home the seriousness of this issue.  Our responses are often inappropriate because we’re emotionally reliving some other moment.

 

Not all patterns are that dramatic, it could be something as simple as the tendency to make the same mistake over and over again. Like a pothole in a street you travel on a daily basis, you promise yourself that you’re going to avoid it this time, and somehow you still manage to drive right into it.  You can rationalize that the city ought to fix the road, but you might also wonder at your own propensity for repeatedly finding that hole.

 

I knew a lady who married a man named Jim, who turned out to be a bit of a mean drunk and was often abusive toward her. Eventually she divorced him and married a man named Jeff, who also turned out to be a bit of a mean drunk, and who was also frequently abusive toward her.  Eventually she divorced him as well, only to marry a man named John, who also turned out to be a bit of a mean drunk, who…  Ultimately, she concluded that she just didn’t have any luck with men.  I would submit that “luck” had little to do with it, and that there was something deeply rooted within her which caused her to find this same type of man over and over again.

 

Another, more subtle pattern is a propensity for being “out of season”. Given that life unfolds in seasons, it is important to discern the season that you’re in, and to embrace it.  Thus, when the enemy of our souls has found a foot hold, he delights in having us show up to the pool party in a parka, or to the snow ball fight in a tank top.  We consistently find ourselves being “at the wrong place, at the wrong time”.  In fact, if you watch someone whose life is unraveling, one of the first signs of trouble is that they’re asleep when everyone else is awake, and they’re awake when everyone else is asleep.  I’ve often seen parents who want to be their kid’s “friends” when they’re young, and then try to parent them when they become adults.

 

As difficult as it may be to break out of these life patterns, our God offers us “divine power to demolish strongholds”. Tearing them down takes away places for our adversary to hide, and limits his ability to speak into our lives.  Like the psalmist beseeched, we need to ask the Lord to “search me”, to “know my anxious thoughts” and ultimately to “lead me in the way everlasting”.

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Last week my wife mentioned a sermon she’d heard about, “Scorekeeping”, which reminded me of something I’d written many years ago.  After scrounging around my notebook, I found it, and it seemed worth sharing.

Scorekeeping

 

Early in my walk with the Lord, I felt like He drew my attention to our very human tendency to keep score and/or to count the cost.  I believe that this trait is so naturally occurring in us, that most of us aren’t even conscious of the fact that we do it.

 

While we may not remember recording every little incident in our mental/emotional database, we can often recall them with amazing clarity when we feel like we’ve somehow been slighted.  These vivid recollections of what we’ve done for others, or what hasn’t been done for us, or what has been done to us, or what others got, or what we didn’t get… are all evidence that somewhere inside of us we’ve kept a pretty detailed ledger of these transactions.

 

We can often use the data from this internal record book as evidence to plead our case to others, or as a weapon against those we want to hurt, or as our excuse to withhold the love, support, and forgiveness God calls us to give.  It becomes the fuel for jealousy, covetousness, discouragement, slander and self-pity.  There is a natural tendency to want to keep these accounts balanced (e.g. I have given, therefore I am entitled to receive…) and to feel as though we’ve been victimized if they don’t, but as with so many other things in our human nature, this doesn’t really line up with God’s word.

 

If we were to be designated the scorekeeper for a football game, we’d first have to understand the point system.  We’d need to know that a field goal is worth 3 points, that a touchdown is worth 6 points, that a kicked point after touchdown is worth 1 point, that a conversion (i.e. a pass or run into the end zone) after a touchdown is worth 2 points…  Without that understanding, we couldn’t accurately understand or convey who was winning and who was losing.  It is the same in life; if we’re going to keep score, we better understand the point system, and as believers that understanding needs to come from our Creator.

 

As we look to His word, we can quickly see that our natural minds will likely score the game much different than our spiritual minds will.  The natural mind says that it is worth more if our good deeds are recognized and appreciated, while scripture says that it is more valuable if they’re not, because they then become an eternal treasure instead of a temporary one.  Our natural mind seeks to receive a blessing, while the spiritual mind understands that the blessing is in the giving.  The natural mind sees the cross as foolishness, while the spiritual mind sees it as the power of God.

 

Another way of expressing this dynamic is the metaphor of an account ledger.  Just like with a checkbook, every deposit and every withdrawal is recorded.  Once again our natural mind tends to want to make judgments about our state of being based on our account balance and again this comes in conflict with the ways of God.  The scripture is filled with passages that challenge this way of thinking.  We’re told not to return evil for the evil that is done to us; to bless those who persecute us and to love those who refuse to love us back.  Beyond telling us not to seek equality in these transactions, the Lord urges us not to even keep a record of them.

 

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the Master chastened the workers who complained that those hired in the final hour of the day were paid the same as they were.  He reminded them that He’d paid them a full day’s wage, just as they had agreed upon, and essentially told them not to be concerned with what He paid anyone else.  Jesus voiced much the same sentiment at the end of the Gospel of John, when Peter thought that John was promised something better than what he was; the Lord scolded him saying, “What is it to you, you must follow Me”.  Proverbs tells us that a stingy man is always thinking about the cost, while the epistles tell us that not only does love cover a multitude of sins, but that it also keeps no record of wrongdoing.

 

If we are going to be the people God destined us to be, we need to stop looking to this imaginary account balance for our sense of justice. Instead, we must trust that the God we serve is just and that His sovereignty is sufficient to ensure that justice will ultimately be served.  We need to remember that whatever measure we choose to use with others, is the measure that will be used with us.

 

The enemy of our souls wants us to believe that if we could get this imaginary score high enough that we’d find peace, joy & fulfillment; but the truth is that these things can only be found in the person of Jesus.  Keeping score and/or counting the cost keeps us focused on ourselves, our situations, our wounds, our failures and other people.  When we succumb to this way of living, our prayers can be reduced to reciting our score card to God (and anyone else who will listen), and we’ll ultimately forfeit the healing and provision His death gained for us.

 

If we really believe that Jesus paid a price that we could never repay, than we should have no need to count the cost.  Any price that we pay is a bargain compared to what we have received.  If we can grasp that truth, our scorecards and/or balance sheets, will become our testimonies.

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Children carry the burden of their parents weakness.

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