Idea or Experience

I grew up with the idea that God was, for the most part, a matter of the mind.  That believing in Him meant agreeing with a list of historical and theological facts, and patterning one’s life according to the rules associated with those facts.  There were many things to do, and not do, in order to legitimize one’s belief; and godly behavior was both the evidence of faith and the key to unlocking God’s blessings on your life. You may be like “duh, of course…that’s what believing in God is;” or you may be feeling something totally different.

Thinking & Feeling can be seen as opposing or complimentary forces.

In the church culture I was raised with, educated in, and ordained as, knowledge and wisdom were paramount.  Emotions and experiences could not be trusted.  Objective truth was sought after above all else, with a great deal of emphasis on knowing every nuance of scripture as the only true voice of God in the world.  Of course, we had to believe in the concepts of experiencing God subjectively because it’s woven all throughout the Bible; but when it came to our real, true beliefs – the ones that actually defined our motivations & behaviors – we avoided and downplayed them as emotional fluff & fringe fantasies.  We also avoided the scriptures that spoke about them, and developed theological defenses to hold them at bay.

You see where I’m going, don’t you?

It’s tragic to me that sometimes those of us who seem to the know the Bible best don’t act like it.  Jesus’ most contentious critics were the ones knew the scriptures best…but in the end it seems that they really didn’t “know” them at all.  To them, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”  The problem is that our hearts, our real true hearts, are often messy & corrupted & unstable…so it’s easier to just close that door and try to keep it separate.  But it doesn’t work, does it?

God cannot be contained in the boxes we create for Him, nor does He keep silent when we hold our hands up beside our eyes so we don’t see certain of His attributes & gifts & desires.  He is not willing to be limited to the seat of a distant Creator who is worshipped & admired from afar on Sunday, or content to remain silent & ignored Monday through Saturday as we go about our business.  We may be adopted as sons & daughters of God, but unless we actually “walk with the Spirit” we can’t experience the results we seek (love, joy, peace, patience, etc… Galatians 5!)

The God of the Bible is not an old, tired hermit with a long beard sitting cross-legged saying wise things from a distant mountain. He is a lion and a lover.  He is intensely relational, and desires to walk through all of life as your best friend.  He is personal, at work in your daily life, and wants to talk with you all along the way.  He is words and action.  He is perfect wisdom but He is not bound to human logic.  He is love in its most pure and powerful emotional intensity.  He is not understandable, but He is knowable…and He is very, very good!

This is about CONTROL.  Either you will limit God’s access to the cerebral places that are safe & therapeutic, or you will allow Him unfettered freedom to everything about you….and experience Him for who He really is and what He has for you.

In the past several years, I’ve been discovering new ways of experiencing God.  Listening more than talking while I pray, recording words & phrases & pictures that come to mind as coming from Him.  Trading-in habits that keep me from walking closely with Him, for better gifts in return.  Noticing & believing & practicing scriptures about the supernatural that I had passed-over for decades.  Allowing Him to invade my thoughts & attitudes & emotions & abilities – all the places inside me – in order to continue becoming more like the person He sees when He looks at me.  I’m learning to give-up control…baby step by baby step.

He can be trusted.


Plank Eye

Many years ago I worked for a total dufus.  At least that was my take on him, and I was really disillusioned about it.  It effected how I felt about my job, my future at the company, and over time began to erode my motivations and work ethic and life in general.  The guy had said all kinds of things in my interview process to convince me that he was a team-player, his heart was in the right place, and that his working philosophy was in-line with mine.  What I found over time was that he was not who he said he was…and I was stuck.  I really liked the position, the way the job fit the current needs of me and my family, and truly enjoyed the people I was working with.  But my boss was an idiot. 
I can’t tell you how many times I anguished & struggled inwardly because of stupid things he said, cowardly decisions he made, or boastful proclamations that made me sick to my stomach.  Essentially, he was an ego-maniac who manipulated people around him to stoke the unquenchable fire of self-aggrandizement that blazed within him.  He knew how to say nice things to people he wanted something from, but he was an absolute ass to people living in the margins…the poor, the weak, the unattractive, the disabled, the socially awkward, etc.  It was difficult for me because his persona reflected upon me as well…I was his assistant.  Initially, I chaffed and argued with him a lot, reminding him of the things he promised and that we had agreed about with each other.  Over time, however, I came to the conclusion that he was who he was and that I wasn’t going to change him.  I thought about leaving, but I decided to stay…and I’m glad I did because I learned 2 extremely valuable life-lessons working with him, which have stuck with me all these years and served me well.
The first lesson I learned was that, if my boss really truly was a jerk, that God knew about it too…and that He was more than able to take care of it.  After accepting that it was not my job to change my boss, I remembered who my real Master was…and that it is His responsibility to avenge wrongdoing.  I meditated & practiced conscientious-detachment with my boss for several years, and was able to flourish under his leadership because God was at work in me.  I learned to release whatever rights I thought I had to judge him, deciding that I could trust God with and concentrate on being faithful to my own responsibilities.
The other thing I learned is that I am, as well, a complete idiot!  As I matured through my process of surrendering my judgements to God, my heart was softened as a result.  As my indignation washed-away over time, it was replaced by a more divine view of my boss and myself.  I found that the one I vilified was not nearly as evil & stupid as I had thought, and my heart softened toward him.  I also was able to recognize my own shortcomings…which are many.  It’s amazing what God can do with us when we’re not obsessed with other peoples’ issues.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5) 

Jesus said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)


Political Polarization

On this inauguration day of Donald Trump as our next President, the cheering & jeering are juxtaposed as never before.  Interestingly, there are followers of Jesus on both sides, all claiming that their own interpretations and priorities are right and those who disagree are idiots.  Battle lines have been drawn, and there is much anger.
Jesus and His early followers lived in a highly-polarized political age.  We can learn a lot about His character and priorities by looking at what is recorded of his words & actions as they relate to the powers-that-be in His day…and those of us who call ourselves by His Name would do well to imitate them in ours. Regardless of our political views.
Today is a day of unprecedented polarization in our country.  I’m not going to take a side, but I am going to point to the Lord…the One who holds my ultimate allegiance and citizenship.  Jesus was called Christ because He was the King.  Not a king of this world, but The King of the eternal, timeless Kingdom that is superimposed upon the temporal world we find ourselves in.  Inaugurating this Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, was the central focus of Jesus’ earthly ministry for those 3 ½ years he walked in dusty sandals in the Middle East.  That Kingdom continues to grow and flourish to this day…not in relation to the power & kingdoms of men, but in His continued presence by His Spirit at work in & through His people today all over the world.
So in this present age, who’s side am I on?  Neither…but as one who is on the Lord’s side, I will endeavor to follow what I know of Him from His example, and dedicate myself to His higher purposes during my earthly sojourn.  I at least know how He wants me to act!
Here are some scriptures I’m meditating on this morning:
“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world….my kingdom is from another place.’” John 18:36
“Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven…” Philippians 3:18-20
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” Matthew 5:16
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
They asked Jesus, ”’Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?’
‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. He said to them, ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’” Luke 20:21-25

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud…Do not repay anyone evil for evil…If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:14-21


I greet you for the first time in 2017…the first time since the holidays and my much-needed Sabbatical.  One of my priorities for this coming year is to reinstitute writing these blogs on a regular basis.  Not only is it a helpful practice for me, but I’ve been encouraged by many of you to keep it up because it helps you in your own journey with Jesus as well.  I apologize for the lapse of time, and am now ready to get back into it after a crazy season.
Not everyone is able to take a month off to rest & reflect & recharge, and I am certainly grateful for the opportunity I had to do so for the conclusion of my 10th year of leading Catalyst!  I had gotten pretty far “off kilter” after a tremendous year of organizational growth.  In fact, I began to wonder if I would ever be able to totally simmer-down as I continued to struggle with anxiety and a sense of urgency after 2-weeks off.  I did eventually begin to come down…I suppose it makes sense that stress-recovery takes awhile when its causes are months in the making.  So I really enjoyed and appreciated the time off, and have emerged saner, stronger, and seriously committed to rediscovering healthy spiritual rhythms to sustain the pace of my earthly journey…and so that I don’t go back to that place again.
Can you relate to this?  Does it ring true for areas of your life & work & relationships & responsibilities?  Do you ever feel like you’re in over your head…for a really long time…running on fumes?  Honestly, I feel like this is par for the course for many of us.  We live in a world that practically worships productivity and efficiency.  My “Type A” personality swallows this whole like a game-fish going after a shiny lure.  Why is this, exactly?  What is it about accomplishing tasks that can sometimes wreck us inside?  God calls us to be faithful and responsible, right?  But what does that mean, exactly?
As followers of Jesus, we are literally citizens of 2 opposing kingdoms…the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world.  We have obligations to both, but our inner desires and gut-level priorities are predominantly shaped by one over the other.  We may have a solid and robust belief-structure and moral-compass based on the scriptures, yet struggle deeply with areas of sin which derail & disempower what we say we believe.  Sometimes these sins are really devious looking, and other times they seem more socially acceptable.  In any case, scripture calls this the battle between the flesh and the Spirit…we struggle with allegiance between 2 masters.  When we get out of balance in some area of life – whether it’s workaholism, drunkenness, greed, pleasurism of some sort (I made that word up), or whatever – we can find ourselves standing still in an icy rut with the wheels spinning furiously to get us out. (fitting analogy here in Portland at the moment!).
Of course God wants us to do good in the world and shine His light through our lives; but what I’m relearning right now is that He asks me to be fruitful, not productive.  They’re different.  Think of the Vine & the Branches in John 15…we’re called to be fruitful but there’s only one command: “Remain in Me.”  Think of the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5…this is a list of virtues, rather than behaviors, with one command: Keep in step with the Spirit.  I’m learning again that God Himself is my source of significance, comfort and well-being…rather than what I do for Him.  My job is to focus on Him as we walk through my life together, rather than getting sidetracked or running ahead. We all tend to fill that “God-shaped-hole” in us with other things at times, and I’m being blessed right now as the Loving Father chastises and cherishes me back into rightful shape.  He’s so good and worth it!  I’ll leave you with this today:
Galatians 5:13-25
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love….So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”