Intimacy & Identity Intro

For this morning’s blog, I’m going to share some words with you that are totally blowing my mind.  I don’t usually parrot the words of another writer in my blogs, but I just had to share this brief excerpt from an amazing book I’m reading right now called “The Forgotten Way” by Ted Dekker.  You may be familiar with Dekker as a popular novelist; but this non-fiction treatise about following Jesus is as honest, vulnerable, and true to scripture as anything else I’ve come across.  It’s a series of deeply scriptural meditations, preceded by his personal testimony of finding Intimacy and Identity with Christ.  I’m reading it as part of my own personal devotions right now, and wanted to pass this along to you to strengthen your journey with Him.  I welcome your comments…

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) 

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? …How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7, 9-11)

“The prophet Ezekiel was among the first to write about a radical personal encounter with God, high and lifted up.  His writing shook the religious establishment of his day.  How could God be encountered so directly outside of the Temple, and without the help of a priest?  More, how could God be described in such strange terms, as a wheel within a wheel?

Still, many people longed to have a relationship with God like the one he described.  To know God so directly – so personally – made the establishment as nervous then as it has throughout history and still does today.  How can this be?  A deep, personal relationship with God, not with dogma or with institutionalized religion, is at the heart of Christianity.  The wall between mankind and God, erected by the church and heavily reinforced for over a thousand years, began to crumble during the Reformation.  Many periods of renewal and revelation in the five hundred years since have further demolished that wall of separation.  Perhaps the most significant one occurred in the early 1900s, when explosive personal encounters with God defied the traditions of men.  The movement to know God experientially continues to accelerate today as more and more believers find true peace and love and power.  Such gifts come only from knowing God INTIMATELY and sharing His divine nature through IDENTITY in Christ…

Has any church more fully experienced the power of the gospel than the one that first embraced Jesus’ Spirit in the twenty years following His resurrection?  This church did not have any of the gospels or the epistles to argue about or defend.  And yet perhaps far more than we, its members lived and breathed the power of ‘being in Christ’ on earth.  Those sacred writings that we now have are called the Scriptures, and they point to Christ, but they are not the Word who is Christ and Christ manifested in us.  Let us worship Christ alone, not the words or the religious dogmas that point to Him.  If we worship doctrine, we will have unwittingly made a god out of something other than God.  Then we will not understand our need to KNOW (experience) Him intimately.  We will be no different from the religious leaders during the time of Jesus who would not yield to Him.

Take comfort, because we know, as Jesus said, that God reveals Himself to children, so His way must be simple.  We know that His yoke (His interpretation) is easy and His burden (what is required to follow that interpretation) is light.  So we look for the good news of the Father in a simple story, and we become like children so that we may know the Father.” definitions….

INTIMACY – A close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.  A close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc.

IDENTITY – The state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions. The condition of being oneself or itself, and not another… the qualities, beliefs, etc., that distinguish or identify a person or thing.

What does it mean to you to experience INTIMACY with your Creator?  
How do you feel about your IDENTITY as His son / daughter?
What aspects of His magnificence has He invested into you as part of your specific IDENTITY?

Who Can Straighten What God Has Bent?

“Consider what God has done. Who can straighten what He has bent?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13)
I was recently asked for my take on this cryptic verse.  The person, a friend of mine, shared that she had often wondered about its meaning.  Let me share a brief story…
A few years ago, while walking through the forest, I came upon this strange tree.  I was surrounded by hundreds of beautiful evergreen conifer trees – fir trees I think.  But this one tree was amazing.  It was literally coming out of the ground sideways, then bending straight up towards the sky.  It was as tall and massive and straight as any other tree in the forest, but its footing was totally cockeyed!  As I stood there studying it, I noticed that the ground on one side gave way to a little depression about 5-feet deep – like a ravine or sinkhole had developed long ago when the tree was just a sapling.  Apparently the young tree was able to endure the trauma and thrive in spite of it.  I have seen trees growing crooked or bent before, but this was the first fully-matured tree I remember seeing that turned a full 90-degrees!  I thought of how fitting this vision was of my life, and the lives of so many people I have known over the years.  God’s Word promises us that He is able to bring good out of every circumstance.  Even the most painful experiences we endure can be used by Him to produce good in the world and strength in us.  This isn’t just a godless, gooey “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” message, but an affirmation of the scripture in Romans, “…We know that all things work together for good to those WHO LOVE GOD, to those who are CALLED according to His purpose.”  When I was a kid, I believed that following Christ would mean He would take all my problems away and give me a carefree life.  The older I get in Him, the more I realize that His power to transform me and bring meaning & hope to my life “is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  It is when we trust Him with our struggles, and go where He leads, that we can see Him most clearly and rise above this broken world.
Back to Ecclesiastes 7:13: “Consider what God has done. Who can straighten what He has bent?”  This one verse is in the middle of a larger exposition of poetic musings regarding God’s view of wisdom and folly, and where they lead.  In looking at the original Hebrew, here I’ve rewritten it with some clarifying meanings: To SEE or BEHOLD the CONSTRUCTS / ACCOMPLISHMENTS that God has BUILT (as opposed to the act of Him working).  Who can STRAIGHTEN or ARRANGE what He has BENT / MADE CROOKED / PERVERTED.  This last word “perverted” seems strange and blasphemous to me.  When I think of this word, images of sexual predators and demonic evil come to mind….surely this isn’t true of our Heavenly Father, right?!  The word means “deviating from what is considered right and correct.”  Let’s learn from the scriptures…what do we know about our God, His purposes, and the strategies with which He has fashioned the world?  I’ll share 4 passages, then a summary of my thoughts…
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?  (Romans 9:15-24)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whoi have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
Here’s a summary of my thoughts…
God is 100% Pure Good, and that’s how He made the world.  Love and relationship are the primary expression of His character, and for that to remain true He had to create us with choice – aka “Free Will.”  His ultimate creation, man & woman, fell to temptation from the enemy and were cast out of the perfect goodness & relationship that God had created.  Their hearts became bent and perverted from that point on, though the glory of God’s created image in them remains as well.  So from then on all of humanity, and the world around us, is living in an amalgamation of good & evil by God’s design, His presence and absence, blessing and curse….not because He’s mean-spirited and capricious, but because He is Good and Just!  God beckons each one of us to return to relationship with Him in the midst of a broken world we cannot repair, while living with perverted desires that we cannot control without Him.  He is intimately involved with each one of us, pursuing and wooing each of us through the circumstances of our lives; and because He exists outside of time (another of His constructs), He sees our beginning and end and everything between all at once.  This vantage point unleashes His blessing and guiding on those who will choose Him and His values; and His thwarting and hardening on those who will forever refuse His opinions, methods, and salvation itself.  Only He sees the outcome.
The challenge for us is to trust His vision and purposes, because we can’t see into the future, or into peoples’ souls as He can.  So instead of getting caught-up in efforts to control outcomes and behaviors, we’re called as God’s children to follow Him, invest ourselves in people & activities that He is blessing, and trust Him with the results.  Amen?
In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:20-22)


Philippians 4:6-7

I woke up this morning with the words of this scripture running through my mind:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

I’ve committed this to memory, and have been repeating it to myself often throughout my days…mostly when I’m anxious.  I don’t memorize and repeat scripture because of any sense of religious obligation, but in order to remind myself of the truth and to exert force upon my wayward will that tends to believe in the realities of the temporal world I see around me rather than the REALITIES of the spiritual realm that we cannot see.  I forget constantly, and truly need reminders all throughout my days…are you like me in that regard? 
I’ve also done some digging into the original language of this passage, and have found some deeper truths that illuminate their meanings like a Winter sunrise that pierces the fog. Then, when I repeat these words to myself, their full weight falls upon those worried places in my soul with such force that my worries seem rather small in comparison…and the feelings of fear, dread, worry, etc., evaporate and wither like unwanted fantasies.  Then I see as God sees.
Check out these words with me from the original Greek language:

  • “Do not be ANXIOUS about anything…”  “Anxious” is “merimnate” – drawn in opposite directions; “divided into parts”; figuratively, “to go to pieces” because pulled apart in different directions.  
  • “…but in everything, by PRAYER…”  “Prayer” is “proseuchē” – from “pros”, “towards, exchange” and “euxe”, “a wish, prayer” – properly, “exchange of wishes”
  • “…and PETITION…”  “Petition” is “deēsei” – heart-felt asking, arising out of deep personal need.
  • “…with THANKSGIVING…”  “Thanksgiving” is “eucharistias” – expressing gratitude to God, as an act of worship, for His grace.  This is where we get the word “eucharist.”
  • “…PRESENT your requests to God…”  “Present” is “gnōrizesthō” – to make known.
  • “…and the PEACE of God…”  “Peace” is “eirēnē” – wholeness, i.e. when all essential parts are tied together into a whole.
  • “…which TRANSCENDS…” – “Transcends” is “hyperechousa” – from “hyper”, beyond, above, and “exō”, have – properly, “to have beyond, i.e. to possess that which is superior/better than, to excel, to surpass, to rise above.” 
  • “…all UNDERSTANDING…” – “Understanding” is “noon” – the mind; mental capacity to exercise reflective thinking, understanding, reason.
  • “…will GUARD…” – “Guard” is “phrourēsei” – to guard, keep watch, like a military sentinel; (figuratively) to actively display whatever defensive and offensive means are necessary to guard.
  • “…your HEARTS…” – “Hearts” is “kardias” – “the affective center of our being”, will, character, desires.
  • “…and MINDS…” – “Minds” is “noēmata” – thoughts, purposes, designs
  • “…in CHRIST JESUS.”  In Jesus, the King.
Maybe I’m just a total Greek Geek, nerding-out with words that nobody else cares about.  But I don’t think so.  These meanings, and the ways that they inform our understanding of God’s Word, are nothing short of transformative!  I’d rather give half an hour to meditating on these words and meanings in the presence of my Father – and receiving from Him what only He can give me – than reading, watching, or taking part in anything else this world has to offer.  Below is a re-rendering of the above scripture, using the meanings from the Greek study above.  Sometimes, restating words that we are familiar with have a way of elevating our understanding and awakening our desire to put them into practice…
“Don’t be pulled-apart by your circumstances, but in everything, exchange your wishes for God’s; asking Him to help with your needs from a place of gratitude for all the ways He blesses you.  With this attitude, make your requests known to God.  This opens you to His wholeness, which will tie you back together in ways that rise far above your capacity to figure things out; actively keeping watch over your desires and thoughts to keep you in step with Jesus, the King.”