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Playpen

One of our granddaughters lives with us, and as of this writing, she is not quite a year old.  She is a precious, beautiful child, who is bold, energetic, and full of curiosity.  Not surprisingly, she wasn’t even ten months old when she started walking, and containing her is a daily challenge.  With the playpen proving to be too restrictive for this 20 lb. force of nature, we fenced in our living room with plastic fencing in order to keep her from the fireplace, the stereo cabinet, bookshelves, electrical outlets… and we constructed a gate, so that us older folks didn’t have to hurdle our way in to, and out of, the living room.  Within this room sized play yard, there are all manner of soft, colorful, musical, and educational things for her to engage with.  Above all else it is intended to be a safe space for her to learn and grow; but from its inception she has made it her mission to escape from it. 

In this endeavor, she has demonstrated amazing resourcefulness, as she’s tried to pull the fence up to crawl underneath it; to slide herself between the seams in the panels, and to push the fence (or gate) down.  When those efforts have failed, she’s pushed her rocking chair, or her wheeled horse to the fence, and tried to use them to climb over it.  Often times, she’ll stand at the gate, and shake it by its bars.  Every time the gate is open, she stops what she’s doing and runs toward it.  Every time the gate closes, she lets out a yelp of protest.  Indeed, the mere existence of this fence seems to be an affront to her soul.  Even without a conscious understanding of it, she instinctively pushes against the concept of limitations or boundaries.

Similarly, while she shows little interest in pacifiers, most teething biscuits, and baby food in general, she will readily stick shoes, used tissues, clumps of dog hair… in her mouth.  Protecting her requires constant vigilance, and quick hands.

As I have prayed for this little one, the Lord has impressed upon me that this is how it is with His children as well.  Like us, He tried to setup a safe and ideal situation for them, but they chose to go their own way.  He then tried to create healthy boundaries to keep them safe, but they perceive that He is trying to keep them from the “good stuff”, and rebel against them.  Indeed, the very idea that He would set limitations causes them to doubt His goodness.  Likewise, He tries to provide them with daily bread (i.e. wisdom and words of life) for growth and well-being, but they readily choose to dumpster dive (i.e. on the empty philosophies of mankind) for their meals instead.

And in all this, I see myself.  Please Lord, not my will, but thine be done!

Pagan Holidays

While the historical link between religious feasts and pagan celebrations seems to become a hot topic during every “Christmas” and “Easter” season, I’ve never sensed that the Lord is as vexed about it as we seem to be.  God has the ability to work all things to the good, even (or maybe especially) our flawed efforts to worship Him.  I feel certain that He is more moved by a heart that yearns to celebrate (& honor) His coming as a man, and the sacrifice He made for mankind, than by a heart that is filled with indignation at the potential inaccuracies within our religious traditions. My prayer is that our hearts will be completely available to Him in this (& every other) season.

Presumption

After working in the nuclear industry for nearly four decades, I have developed the habit of approaching issues in a scientific manner.  As such, I tend to look for the elements that are known (i.e. proven, reliable), or in mathematical terms, constant; because it is the arrangement of these constants that facilitates the determination of variables (e.g. if A+B=C, then knowing A and C will allow me to solve for B).   

Similarly, when developing a theory, it is important to identify the assumptions, because they play a significant role in the interpretation of experimental outcomes.  Faulty assumptions result in the misinterpretation of data, which then leads to wrong conclusions.

Most of us would like to think that our assumptions are rooted in truth, but it would be more accurate to say that they are based on what we believe to be true.  Jesus is the embodiment of truth (John 14:6), and our revelation of Him is partial at best (1Cor.13:9).  Consequently, our presumptions about truth tend to be more entrenched in our personal experience (including what we’ve been taught) than in anything that might qualify as factual. 

The idea that we somehow have an innate ability to discern the difference between what is right and what is wrong (i.e. good versus evil) is part of what the serpent promised Eve in the garden, and mankind has been eating of that fruit ever since.

Indeed, there is a way that seems right to a man (i.e. that he presumes to be right), but in the end it leads to death (Prov. 14:12).  Scripture’s exhortations to God’s children are predicated on His direct involvement; I can do all things through Christ who strengths me (Phil.4:13), with God all things are possible (Matt.19:26), those who abide in vine will produce much fruit (John 15:5)…  Jesus warned that apart from Him we could do “nothing” and I am convinced that He means absolutely nothing! 

The concept of sanctification seems to imply that believers eventually mature to a point of being immune to the temptation of doing what is right in their own eyes, but nothing in scripture supports such a notion. 

As a young child, riding in the back of my parent’s car, I didn’t pay attention to where we were going, because my father was driving, and I trusted that He knew the best way to get us there.  Even as an adult, I would never have presumed to take the wheel of my father’s car.  Why should it be different with my heavenly Father?

Minute by minute, we have to make a conscious effort to take every thought captive (2Cor. 10:5), to not lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5), to partake of the divine nature (2Pet.1:4), and to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt.4:4).  Even with the best of intentions, we can effortlessly slip into presumption, and not even recognize that we’re doing it.

How often do we act or speak in Jesus’ name, without ever consulting Him on the matter?  We presume that our knowledge of scripture qualifies us to handle an issue, and then wonder why our ministry doesn’t produce more real fruit.  Peter presumed he was saving Jesus when he grabbed the sword in the garden, just as Saul presumed he was doing God’s work by persecuting Jesus’ followers.  In both cases, God intervened on a personal level to stop them.

Ministers who have a sense of calling on their lives, or have been given a vision for their ministry, often begin to pursue the calling/vision instead of continuing to trust the Lord to guide them step by step to that destiny. 

God gives someone an anointing to flow in a particular gift, and they presume that they are now empowered to dispense that blessing as they see fit; even to the point of marketing it, or offering to “impart” it for the right price. 

Even simple prayers of petition can be laced with presumption, as we beseech God to do what we believe is needed, instead of seeking to understand His perspective and will for a given situation.

When we read 2Chron. 7:14 as a call to pray for our nation, we presume that we’ve already humbled ourselves, turned from our wicked ways, and sought His face.  Praying for a hundred fold return on every seed planted presumes that we’ve planted nothing but “good” seed.  Praying for God to send revival, send the fire, send… presumes that we’ve exhausted the resources He’s already sent (i.e. His Son and His Spirit) and that they were somehow insufficient to accomplish what He’s called us to.

If Jesus, a faultless son with intimate knowledge of His Father, refused to act without His Father’s guidance on a matter, than how can we presume to do otherwise?  If we genuinely fear the Lord, we ought to fear speaking, and taking action, apart from Him. 

Ultimately, it is the presumption that we know what is best for us, and/or what will make us “happy”, and/or  what is needed in any given situation, that keeps us from experiencing the “exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ever ask for, or imagine” (Eph.3:20).

I am a gifted man.  Does that sound arrogant?  I promise you that it’s not.  Actually I’m just repeating what the Bible says about all of those who are in Christ.  If you are a “Believer”, you could (and actually should) say the same of yourself.  Even if you’ve never recognized a spiritual gift within you, I can assure you that you’ve got them. 

The Apostle Paul said that we should eagerly pursue “spiritual gifts”, and he goes on to explain that these gifts are to allow each of us to fulfill our unique role within the Body of Christ.  This means that our motivation in desiring this giftedness should not be to glorify ourselves, but to serve.  Therefore it is important that we go beyond pursuing, identifying, and deploying our spiritual gifts, to also find the context in which the Lord is calling us to use what He’s given us.

Not many years ago, I would have denied possessing any special gifts, but as I’ve pursued a deeper and more personal relationship with the Lord, I’ve come to realize that He has actually given me many wonderful gifts.  While some might view that as a prideful statement, I would submit that the quality of a gift is a direct reflection of the Giver, and that it does not necessarily reflect anything about receiver (other than the fact that they are the object of the Givers affection).  I know that I’ve not done anything that warrants the good things that God has given me; it is simply a manifestation of His generosity toward me. 

While some might claim that God has been more generous with some than others, I doubt that is true.  I believe that there are many people who never realize what their gifts are, and thus never walk in the fulfillment of them.  I also believe that we judge some gifts as more valuable than others, but that in God’s view, they are all vital to the fulfillment of His purpose.  Because God is no respecter of persons, I believe that He’s given all of His children good gifts.  In light of that, it seems that the only grateful response is to use whatever He has given us to glorify His name, and to serve His people.

The danger in recognizing our spiritual gifts is that we can begin to see them as God’s stamp of approval.  As we become skilled at moving within our area of gifting, we can mistake that ability as Gods reward to us for faithful service, instead of His purely unmerited favor.  The Bible says that the spiritual gifts are “without repentance”, meaning that even if they’re not used for His glory, He doesn’t take them back. 

This also means that giftedness and holiness are not necessarily connected, or proportional.  It seems to me that we in the church are overly impressed by giftedness and largely uninterested in holiness; yet scripture tells us that “without holiness, no one will see the Lord”.  I once heard a minister say that the church doesn’t suffer from a lack of giftedness; it just suffers from a lack of money.  I’d submit that what the church truly lacks is holiness (and the genuine fruit it produces), and that without it, money and giftedness will only hasten our downfall.

In my own walk, I can see that the realization of my spiritual gifts has not made my heart any more pure.  The flesh continues to war with the Spirit for control of my soul.  God may give me the ability to discern something in the spiritual realm (which is simply a manifestation of giftedness), but the power is not in the discernment, it is in what I choose to do with it, which is greatly affected by what is in my heart. 

If I have bitterness, envy or strife with someone, I may use that discernment to gossip, or cause factions.  If I am insecure, I may use this discernment to try to puff myself up, or to promote my own agenda…, but if my heart is sold out to the purposes of God, I will ask Him what to do with this discernment, and seek to advance His purposes through it. 

The Lord reminded me of the story where Ham found his father (Noah) drunk, and naked in his tent, and of how Ham’s brothers walked into the tent backwards, so as to cover their father, and bring no shame upon him.  I felt like the Lord said that Ham wasn’t cursed for discerning the error of Noah’s ways, or even for telling his brothers about it, but because his heart did not seek to honor his father, or protect his family. 

I was convicted by that example, because I know that I have often been “accurate” in my discernment (i.e. giftedness), but have responded in ways that have not been protective of the Body of Christ or glorifying to the Lord (i.e. holiness).  Giftedness was never meant to be a substitute for holiness, or to be applied separately.

It is not my intent to in any way discourage the seeking and fulfillment of spiritual gifts.  As a matter of fact, I believe that the scripture mandates it, and that it is an essential element for us to reach our destiny as children of God.  I don’t believe that the church has even begun to scratch the surface of what Christ has attained for us, and that the great storehouses of heaven remain jammed with unopened gifts.  But I also believe that these gifts will only be effective to the degree that our hearts are submitted to the Lord, and that above all things that must be our priority. 

Spiritual gifts are like tools for the work of the Kingdom; and as with any tool, their effectiveness will largely depend on whose hands they are in.  We must place our tools in the hand of the Master Builder, because unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain.  As a man who is aware that he has been given gifts, I pray that God would give me a heart that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

Unrequited

You built us a private garden, where we could be together in the cool of the day

But we chose a land of our own.

*

You came to us as a cloud by day, and a fire by night

But when You spoke directly to us, we asked that You stop.

*

You tried to guide us from afar

But we killed Your prophets, and demanded an earthly king.

*

You sent us Your only Son

But we nailed Him to a cross.

*

You made it so we could encounter You face to face

Yet, we still seek Your glory in some mystical cloud.

*

You invite us to come as little children

Yet we act as though You are unapproachable.

*

You sent Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us

And still, we clamor for You to send something more.

*

We claim to be grafted to the vine

But our branches remain barren of nourishing fruit.

*

We’ve put Your name on our buildings,

But we’ve not made a place for You to dwell.

*

What is man that You are mindful of him?

Yet, still You go to and fro about the earth,

looking for hearts that are truly yours.

Future Tense

In my personal experience, I have found that the God who entreats us to resist our natural urge to worry about tomorrow (Matt. 6:34) is rarely speaking about future events.  Instead, He who is unmoved by circumstance, and does not regard outward appearances (1Sam. 16:7), is almost always addressing the condition of our hearts in the present tense.  Indeed, mankind’s obsession with knowing the future is rooted in fear, and is the antithesis of trust. 

In the C.S. Lewis classic, “The Screwtape Letters”, the old demon explains to his young apprentice that while humans are created with the ability to access both the spiritual and natural realms, their connection to the spiritual exists in the present.  Because of this, he encourages the younger demon to always have his “patient” looking back, or looking ahead.  Undoubtedly, this is so that they never make the connection to the source of their strength.  In this, Lewis unveils one of the most successful strategies of our enemy. 

Given the clamor of so many “prophetic” voices, claiming to have special insight into future events, we might do well to run back to our Father, and hear what the Spirit of the Lord is saying to the churches (Rev.2).

The spirit of religion feverishly sews the torn veil back together, and sends volunteers to become brokers in our relationship with God.  If we succumb to this, we risk becoming a people who do things in Jesus’ name, but who don’t actually know Him (Matt. 7:23).

  • What if our value to God isn’t found in what we can accomplish in His name, but is rooted in our genuine affection for Him (2Chron. 16:9, Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, Rom. 8:28)?
  • What if our extensive knowledge of scripture, and all our good works don’t really matter unless they are accompanied by His heart for others (1Cor. 13:1-3, 1John 4:20)?
  • What if God isn’t so much concerned with the perfection of our execution, as He is with the sincerity of our effort (Rom. 8:28, Heb. 11:6)?
  • What if partaking of His resurrection power is predicated on participating in His death and burial (John 12:24, Rom. 6:5)?
  • What if we’re not waiting on Him to move (John 19:30), and He is in fact waiting for us to discover what we’ve already been given (Rom. 8:19, Col.1:27, 2Peter 1:3)?
  • What if He’s already given us everything we need to be His glorious bride (1Cor. 2:16, 1John 2:27, 2Peter 1:3), and we’ve just been too distracted to prepare for a wedding (Matt. 15:8)?

A Question of Balance

Part of the fruit of “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” is the inherent belief that we know what is best for us, and ultimately what will make us happy.  Reflexively, we view situations through the lens of our own experience, and then lean heavily on our own understanding.  We may try to evoke some scriptural justification for our assessments, but it is the Spirit of God that offers us the balance. 

For instance, we can watch the evening news, and in our frustration, we can decide that what we really need is boldness, and then start praying for a “spirit of boldness” to be released; when the Spirit of Lord is actually trying to get us to take our eyes off the circumstance (i.e. temporal), and get us to engage in the actual spiritual battle (2Cor. 4:18).  Without the temperance of the Spirit, our fervor tends to drive us toward destruction.

No doubt, it was zeal for God that compelled James & John to want to call fire down from heaven (Luke 9:54), and Peter to swing the sword in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:51), and Saul to persecute Jesus’ followers (Acts 8:3).  But all were eventually admonished for doing what seemed right in their own eyes.   Indeed, boldness without discernment is a dangerous thing.

In much the same way, knowledge can be a two edged sword.  It is only when knowledge encounters humility that it has the potential to become wisdom.  Without the moderation of the Spirit, knowledge can simply puff a man up (1Cor 8:1), and God resists the proud (James 4:6).

Our carnal mind likes to classify things as either “good” or “bad”, but context is essential.  Paul tells us to eagerly seek spiritual gifts (1Cor.12:31), but then warns that without love, those gifts become worthless (1Cor. 13:1-3).  Scripture cautions that we are justified by faith and not by works (Gal. 2:16), but then declares that faith without works is dead (James 2:17).  We learn that there is power in the name of Jesus (Mark 16:17), but find that doing things in Jesus’ name is of no eternal value, unless we actually know Him (Matt. 7:23). 

To our finite way of thinking, things like justice and grace are diametrically opposed, and yet they are both perfectly reflected in the person of God.  The balance of these (and many other) issues can only be found in Him.  Ultimately, this is what allows us to be in the world, but not of the world (John 17:15-18).  Only He has the words of life (John 6:68), and apart from Him, we can do “nothing” (John 15:5).

The Living Word

The longer I walk with the Lord, the more inclined I am to believe that the depth of our relationship with Him directly corresponds to the role we assign the Holy Spirit in our lives.  If we simply regard Him as a ghost (who essentially backlights our spiritual journey), or cast Him in the role of Jiminy Cricket (i.e. a little voice to tweak our conscience when necessary), or treat Him like a Technicolor Dream-coat (i.e. to provide us with exhilarating spiritual experiences), or view Him as a tool in our toolbox (i.e. ostensibly to do the work of the Lord), our relationship with the person of God will likely remain vague and distant. 

Indeed, there are whole denominations who have concluded that the Holy Spirit essentially completed His work back in the 1st century, which resulted in “the perfect word of God” (i.e. the Bible), which is now to be treated as our sole source for truth.  And while I certainly would not want to diminish the vital role the scripture plays in our walk with the Lord, I can confidently say that it was never meant to supplant the work of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, I would submit that we have no hope of rightly applying the scripture without the Spirit’s involvement.

It is also important to note that the scripture never actually claims to be the “Word of God”.  It says that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1); and then it explains that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). 

Before the crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples that it was better that He go, so that the Holy Spirit would come.  And then, in the epistles, we learn that through the Spirit we have an anointing that teaches “all things” (1John 2:27), that we’ve been given the “mind of Christ” (1Cor 2:16), and that He’s provided everything we need for Godly living (2Peter 1:3).  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are reminded that apart from Him, we can do “nothing” (John 15:5).  That most certainly includes rightly dividing the scripture.

It’s much too easy to grab ahold of a verse that seemingly supports our position, perspective, or attitude; without ever really inquiring of the Lord as to what He is actually saying about a matter.  Devoid of context, we may want to justify walking away from difficult people (i.e. if they don’t receive you, dust your feet off and go – Luke 9:5), when the Spirit is actually saying, “they asked for your cloak, but you should offer your tunic as well (Luke 6:29).” 

We may rationalize walking by the homeless man based on Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, which says that a man who refuses to work should not eat (2Thes 3:10), while the Spirit is trying to remind us that whatever we do to the “least of these”, we do unto the Lord (Matt 25:40-45).

Prophetic declaration is much the same.  We cannot simply grab ahold of what we want the Lord to be saying over a specific moment/situation.  We need to go directly to Him, hear what He is saying, and then declare those things.

The Pharisee’s and Sadducee’s dedicated their lives to the study of scripture, and yet, when the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah stood before them, they could not recognize Him.  In much the same way, we can spend time diligently studying the ancient texts without ever encountering the person of God (Matt. 7:21-23). 

Jesus warned, “You study the scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These are the very scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40).  Though we like to refer to the Bible as the Living Word of God, this is only true to the degree that the Holy Spirit is involved.