The Twelve Stones

“Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, saying, ‘Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.’” So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; and Joshua said to them, “Cross again to the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. “Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.”—Joshua 4:1-7

This is not just the story of Israel crossing over into the Promised Land, it is our story, too. Consider…

The record begins with the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant out into the middle of the Jordan River at flood stage. There they stood until all of Israel, a group of millions, crossed through the river to the other side. A miracle of Biblical proportion! The the Lord tells Joshua to select a man from each tribe, twelve men, to go back into the Jordan and select stones, large stones that they would carry back to dry land on their shoulders.

Just as Israel crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land is a prophetic picture of a Believer’s journey into God’s promises through the Messiah, so are the twelve men and the twelve stones a prophetic picture. Nothing in the Kingdom is random or without purpose.

Joshua chose twelve men. Jesus, whose name is Joshua in Hebrew, chose twelve men.

The men Joshua chose where probably not “book worms”. He knew the purpose for which they were called and no doubt selected the biggest, strongest man in each tribe to pick up the largest stone he could carry on his shoulder. Knowing how men operate, one can only imagine that once they got out into the middle of the river bed there had to be a bit of “one-upmanship” going on. They no doubt picked up the largest rock they could carry. In addition, the Hebrew word used here for “stone” carries with it the notion of using it to build, as in a “cornerstone”. These were twelve large stones, rocks, boulders which must have built a substantial memorial. It was built to last, the Lord said it was to be a reminder to Israel “forever”.

The men Jesus chose, likewise, were not of the elite, dainty set either. They were mostly fishermen. Men who plied the waters of the Sea of Galilee since they were kids. In season and out of season. Hard work in blazing sun. Hand-numbing work in the winter frost. Rain or sun they had to fish, it was their livelihood and most likely the largest part of their diet. These were tough people. In addition, they had been living under Roman tyranny and a Pharisaic religious spirit their entire lives. Jesus knew that whoever He chose would have to be tough to endure what was to come; persecution, trials(literal and figurative), and even martyrdom. How easy it is for we pampered Americans to look down our spiritual noses at this crew, in particular Peter, and describe them in almost mocking tones. Let me suggest that the average American Christian couldn’t “hold Peter’s jock”, to employ an old athletic metaphor. Upon this rock, these twelve stones, Jesus would build the edifice that in the end would be the foundation for His covenant to be realized on Earth. Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build My ecclesia.” Joshua might have said, “Upon these rocks we will build the foundation, the recollection of the promises and miracle provision of God, for our future journey into, and conquest of, the Promised Land.”

Why a “memorial”? The twelve stones were placed one upon another to create a “memorial”, a sign of God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Israel. The word “memorial” is found 14 times in the Pentateuch. It is an important word. The feasts, or convocations, were commanded as a “memorial”. These stones, this “memorial”, actually two; one in the river and one where they “lodged”, provided the foundation for Israel going forward, or at least not going backward. (Apparently Joshua was so taken with the idea that it appears that he ordered up the second “memorial”, in the middle of the Jordan, on his own.) So long as they remembered God’s miraculous provision there would never be a doubt that it was God’s will for them to have crossed the Jordan, no matter what hardships they may endure, because it took a miracle to make it happen.

In a sense the crossing of the Jordan may have been a big “do-over”. The crossing of the Red Sea was the first such miracle, but those people were gone, having died off in the desert because they had forgotten God’s miracles in Egypt and at the Red Sea. And God was very specific in His instruction to Joshua. Part of His purpose in ordering Joshua to build this memorial was so that when their children asked them what this huge pile of rocks was about they were to tell, and retell, them of God’s miraculous provision. How important it must be for God to so instruct. We must never forget what God has done for us, both individually and collectively? If we do so, we do so at our own peril. I submit that each time we find ourselves in emotional turmoil, swimming in doubt and confusion it is because we have forgotten, we have lost sight of and, consequently, lost hold of God and His promises kept.

How quickly Adam and Eve seem to forget, or perhaps take for granted, the Lord’s provision. How quickly the children of Israel forgot the miracles God performed in Egypt and their deliverance via the Red Sea. The balance of the Old Testament is filled with the record of God’s provision and Israel’s forgetful nature. Are we any different?

Might I suggest that each of us who are Christ-followers might want to build a memorial of our own that we can look back on and remind ourselves of how God has provided for us, individually. Select twelve solid memories, twelve stones, of experiences wherein God broke-in on your behalf. Write them down. Place them somewhere where you can revisit them from time to time, frequently, like every new moon. Be creative. I love rocks. I intend to build my own stone memorial and place it in my back yard where I will see it every time I walk out there. Each with a name, a date, a word to remind me of God’s power manifest on my behalf. If you don’t have twelve such memories just start building with what you do have and ask the Lord to provide the rest. Those stones may well represent the very foundation of our faith, a foundation that will be a necessity in the coming flood. The house built upon the rock withstood the wind and the rain and the deluge. Just sayin’…

True Reformation

“Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.”—Matthew 10:1

During, and now in the aftermath, of the 2020 election many of the voices in the church in America are speaking of the need for reformation. The charge for the church to “wake up” is resounding across social media, that is on those sites that haven’t banned Christians voices as yet. There has been a lot of talk of the “seven mountains” of influence and how the church has lost influence in each of the following: government, finance, the arts (sports and entertainment), education, the media, family and even religion. It is true. The church at large has been for the most part ineffective in molding minds and hearts in each of the subcultures noted. So now what?

First of all, I’m not at all sure that the voices calling for reformation have the same kind of reformation in mind. To those who would seek to go back to the “good ol’ days” I would suggest they get off the “yellow brick road”. Those “good ol’ days”, say hearkening back to the 50’s, before “free love” and rampant abortion etc. etc., were not very “good” if you were a person of color or were a woman. So it should be made very clear that the call for reformation is not a call to return to what would surely be considered an era marked by misogyny and overt racism.

Any true reformation must be the product of changed hearts and minds, not the application of external influences such as laws and political power. Any reformation created through the use of power is simply unbiblical and wrong-headed. Fighting fire with fire is not the way. Yet, when I hear some of those who are leaders in the church at large I become wary. Talk of getting involved, becoming engaged in the political process, calling your congressman, running for city council or the school board, etc. Clearly, those can all be good things, but not if one is doing so to wield influence. That would be a form of manipulation. The idea of flooding each of the seven mountains with Christian influence by sheer numbers is simply an adaptation of “might makes right”. Not to mention that such an approach has its roots in works, as opposed to faith. When one listens to those voices you can’t help but feel the obligation, the duty, inherent in the charge to get involved. It has been said, “Jesus pulls, the devil pushes.” I am feeling pushed.

Permit me to bring back a phrase in vogue not so long ago, “What would Jesus do?”

Back to Matthew 10:1. One might wonder what this verse has to do with the notion of societal or cultural reformation. The key word in the cited verse is authority, “exousia”. “Exousia” is a powerful word. It means power to act. In the New Testament this “delegated power” refers to the authority God gives to His saints to accomplish that which He charges them to do and would be impossible to accomplish without it. This was true authority, real power to accomplish the delegated tasks. The proof is in the pudding, this motley crew went out and did cast out demons and did heal every disease and every kind of sickness. However, to understand the import of the verse one must go back to the last few verses in Matthew 9.

“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’”

Jesus was deeply moved by the overwhelming needs of this multitude some of who had walked a 100 miles just to see Him. (That is the distance from Jerusalem to Capernaum on foot.) Note, Jesus didn’t come up with a new public welfare strategy. He didn’t suggest running for public office, in those days getting involved in the hierarchy of the Jewish religious structure, or taking on the Romans. He didn’t recruit people to sign up as volunteer “workers” in an effort to feed, clothe and or educate the masses.

What He did do is immediately call the twelve aside and charge them. But, not only did He charge them, he empowered them by imparting to them the same “authority” that He operated in. Which, by the way, is a perfect model of true delegation, responsibility delegated combined with the power to be responsible.

Ultimately, those twelve, actually eleven plus a replacement for Judas, turned the known world upside down. Not by virtue of forming a new political party, not by initiating a new populous movement, not by preaching a message of “get involved”, “get engaged”, “run for office”. No. The movement that changed the world forever, the greatest reformation yet, was accomplished as a result of focusing on a one-at-a-time, inside out transformation of the individual. We call it revival, which I find to be a curious term. To revive is to bring back to life something that was dead. Is that we want? Jesus did not preach revival, neither did the apostles. Jesus said you can’t put new wine into old wineskins. What we need has to be new. New life, new hope, new dreams, new vision, new power. “Old things passed away, new things have come.”

In order for real reformation to occur there is one absolute necessity… true authority, true power, only available through the Holy Spirit. He is our greatest need. So much of church growth can be explained without any reference to the power of the Holy Spirit. There are massive secular organizations, heavily financed and wielding political power like never before, all accomplished in the flesh. Statistics show that church growth is not a good metric for measuring cultural influence. Paul’s words to Timothy come to mind, “holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power; avoid such people as these.”(2 Timothy 3:5) This same Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “the Kingdom of God does not consist of words, but of power(dunamis-“dynamite”)”. (1 Corinthians 4:20) As the old ad said. “Where’s the beef?” Unless and until the church is imbued with power from on high and begins to work the works of Jesus, yes miracles, true reformation will remain a pipe dream.

I am in no way suggesting that Christ-followers should not be good citizens. Getting involved in our communities at whatever level is a good thing. Voting is a good thing. However, these are givens they are not a means to an end, they are not part of an overall agenda. We stand in good stead when we become “involved”, in whatever, in obedience to the call and the specific direction of the Holy Spirit. As opposed to responding to a general call to duty in an effort to change our culture, which is a recipe for failure, or worse.

I can only speak for myself. My life lacks the kind of power and authority that Jesus imparted to the twelve that day in Capernaum. I have had what some call God-encounters. I have known His Presence and even His power on occasion, but I don’t walk in it. I do not personally know one Christ-follower who walks in that authority. Not one. I know of them, but I don’t have a personal relationship with them. I have been following Jesus for nearly 50 years, so that is a sad commentary. Until that changes. Until the Lord of the harvest sends out workers into “His” harvest, not our but His. Until we walk in true authority, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and cast out demons and heal the sick and raise the dead we are the one’s in need reformation. Truth.

Having said all that, I do believe that reformation is coming. I do believe reformation is at hand. I do believe more than at any time in my lifetime that the Holy Spirit is about to be poured out on America. I, also, believe it will be messy, very messy. Judgment begins with the household of God. Release that tidal wave of justice and righteousness that the prophet Isaiah spoke of O God. Reform us as only You can. Amen.

Shalom Shalom

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.” —Isaiah 26:3

To suggest that we are living in tumultuous times is an understatement. In my 69 years I have never experienced, sensed, felt deeply the deluge of hate and divide now poisoning our land, our world. The 60’s were crazy and we have experienced rioting and violence in the streets, but with the advent of the internet we are immersed in a constant 24/7 stream of toxic vitriol. There are no reasonable discussions to be had. I have yet to witness a single conversation where upon a Trump supporter was apprised of information that made him or her question their position. Likewise, I cannot remember a time when any one of my friends of the liberal persuasion demonstrated a willingness to consider that they may be wrong. It would seem there are no honest conversations wherein one might actually admit their position might be faulty. Positions that are almost purely based upon political bias and hearsay. Perhaps it has always been this way. But, I would suggest this social malady is nowadays on steroids.

I frequently find my mind, especially in the unguarded moment like between sleep and awakening, chasing down rabbit trails that lead to nothing but frustration and, of course, a loss of sleep. I think there is a sense that my personal perspective of justice is being violated. I, also, think that there is a part of me , like those I described above, that enjoys being “right” and/or proved right. This angst is troubling, to say the least. It erodes one’s trust in humankind. It causes me to hunker down and become very deliberate about what I say and to whom I say it. In short, it effects my relationships. One has to take the political temperature in the room before venturing out. It is a bit like walking on egg shells, which is how I grew up and I refuse to live that way as an adult.

So as I was sitting in my spa in the chill of a 3:30 a.m. frost, because that’s where I go to talk with God about these weighty issues that steal my sleep, Isaiah 26:3 popped into my head. I know this verse well, I have studied it previously. However, on this occasion another layer unfolded before me.

An amplified version of the verse might read as follows…

“You(God) will keep him in perfect(shalom) peace(shalom), Whose mind(where thoughts and imaginations are framed) is stayed(laid, resting, leaning) on You, Because he trusts(having a bold confidence that borders on carelessness) in You.”

The first new thought I had when I reread the passage has to do with context. The prophet was speaking of a future time when the nation of Judah would survive a tumultuous season and come into a place of peace and prosperity. The timing of this unfolding layer of understanding, in combination with our current national context, served to underscore the significance of this passage for me in such a time as this.

The first observation of note in verse three is the double shalom rendered as “perfect peace”, it is literally “shalom shalom”. Shalom actually means much more than simply peace. Like most Hebrew words, it does not translate into a single English word or notion. Shalom carries a sense of completeness, soundness, welfare, peace, safety, health, prosperity. It is a word pregnant with meaning. And, in this verse the prophet doubles up which perhaps to the Jewish mind was akin to a double portion, the prized inheritance of the eldest son. I would suggest that this is very much like the peace that the Apostle Paul wrote about in his letter to the Philippians, it is a “peace that surpasses understanding”. How does one obtain such “shalom”, especially in the midst of turmoil?

It is the reward for those who keep their minds (the seat of all thoughts, imaginations, speculations) “stayed” on God. Once again the Hebrew word eludes a direct correlation to a single English word. The idea is that one must cause their mind to focus, lean on, find rest in God. It sounds simple. It is simple in concept, it can be very difficult in practice. Why? Because our minds are constantly at work, whether we want them to be or not. Some of us cannot sleep because we cannot stop thinking about what happened yesterday or today, or what might happen tomorrow. We speculate, we worry. We know we cannot control our world, though many of us will die trying. We know that the world can be hurtful, painful, even deadly. And, not just for ourselves, but for our loved ones. The Apostle Paul spoke to that one too, “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” But, here’s the kicker, the layer that unfolded before me this morning in the hot tub…

The last phrase is actually the key, “because he trusts in You.” Trust is the issue. True trust in God produces a sense of boldness and confidence such that one can afford to be “careless”, that is without a care. That is child-like trust. That is why Jesus said it is necessary to become like a child. If my wife and I did our job each day our young children could go to bed each night without a worry in the world. Oh, that I could get back to that place! It is “because” of that trust that one’s mind is freed to rest in God in the midst of mess. Mental discipline may keep one focused for a moment or a minute or an hour, but in the end our level of trust in our Father will be determinative. Worry, angst, sleeplessness cannot be coexistent with this trust and are a sure sign that I have allowed fear to enter in. I plead Paul once again…

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

Further

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Romans 8:31-35, 37-39

So now I can go back to bed and sleep having flooded my mind with a good word. I can trust God to keep me through the night. Tomorrow night I may have to reread my own words… life is a battle.

2021

“But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The prophet Amos lived some 2700 years ago, yet his words still wax prophetic. Most of us might well remember Dr. King adopting this timeless phrase as a theme in his fight for civil rights in the 60s. While Dr. King is no longer with us the hope, the prayer, the intention of these words prevail.

But” is a large three letter word that should not be ignored. It signifies a contrast. In contrast to the status quo of that time in the northern ten tribes of Israel; wherein social injustice, corruption in the marketplace, and a formal, yet dead, religious practice marked the day. Sound familiar?

Amos, a herdsman from Judea, employs a surprising literary device, given his station in life, a simile. He warns Israel that there still is a God in Israel. He still sees, He has taken note. He sent droughts, floods, plagues in an effort to get their attention, to no avail. Now He is coming. He is coming as the God whose notions of justice and righteousness are “like” waters. They are not simply concepts, not just ideas or ideals. Rather, they flow. They are dynamic, they have life, bring life, preserve life. They are the embodiment, the fabric of life rightly lived.

Are we not ancient Israel? Is modern America not plagued by injustice, corruption, excess, graft, and now a plague of sorts? As has been stated by those wiser than I, if God does not judge America He will owe some folks an apology.

I submit God’s justice is coming, it is about to “roll down like waters.” How does water “roll down”? The only place I can think of where water actually “rolls” is at the ocean. Waves roll. They roll until they reach the breaking point, the tipping point, and when they break they unleash tremendous power. This justice is not going to stroll into town. It is not going to be ushered in slowly, neatly, incrementally. No, it is going to break like a tidal wave across this land.

And what of God’s righteousness? First, the modern English definition of righteousness is “acting in accord with divine or moral law : free from guilt or sin.” It has become, almost exclusively, a religious term. That is not what the Hebrew word meant. In Hebrew, righteousness describes a wider concept that includes notions of being accurate, fair, rightness in the sense of just weights and measures in the marketplace and in the courts. It would be accurately portrayed by Lady Justice. She is blindfolded, such that she is no respecter of persons. She holds a perfectly balanced scale in her left hand, because she owns no bias or prejudice. She wields a sword in her right hand, the sword of truth. She represents a wonderful ideal, one rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Our land has never fully lived up to that ideal. Some would say, not even close. Be that as it may, we have now all but jettisoned that tradition. The marketplace is corrupt; insiders lie, cheat and steal. Government is often dispensed by those who have forgotten what it is to be a “public servant”. Too often they use their position to feather their own nest such that when they leave public service they are far wealthier than a government salary would suggest possible. The courts too often render inconsistent judgments based upon regional bias and prejudice. The higher courts of the land are employed to not only interpret the laws through the lens of our Constitution, but now generate law by virtue of their decisions, and as such are used to circumvent the legislative process. Too often, the rich receive one form of justice, the poor another.

Amos rightly conjoins God’s justice and righteousness. They cannot be separated. Justice will roll down like a mighty waters. Righteousness like an “ever-flowing stream”, which is actually a poor translation. The Hebrew word translated “ever-flowing” does hold a sense of being perpetual, but it also contains a sense of power, that of rushing water, even a torrent. Taken together, I am suggesting that God is about to send a tidal wave that will change the lay of the land. He is going to upset the status quo. There will be ruin and destruction. It will be messy. It will be a deep cleaning. It will be a massive correction that will impact both the secular and the religious. It’s coming. May we suffer a lesser fate than that of the ten tribes, Lord have mercy…

“Antidote to the Coronavirus Panic of 2020…”

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you: because he trusts in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

In this time of turmoil, mental anguish, confusion, truth simplified is at its best. When beset by conflict, anguish, fear we have little energy or inclination for complex theological computation. This verse epitomizes simplicity, yet in no way compromises the powerful promise of God.

In the end we all seek just one thing… peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Jesus is a priest according to the Order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek means King of Righteousness, but he was, also, the King of Salem(shalom), that is peace.

In our world peace means harmony, the absence of hostility, the absence of violence or conflict, or the fear thereof. The Biblical view of peace is more.

The Hebrew word translated peace in the cited verse is “shalom”. You may recognize this as a common Jewish expression, salutation or greeting, but it is so much more. The Hebrew concept of “shalom” meant wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety, prosperity, and had staying power, the implication of permanence because it was rooted in God.

Compare and contrast the two terms: peace as over against shalom. The one is fragile, the other enduring; one exists primarily as an antithesis to the negative(fear, violence, conflict); the other is a stand alone, it exists only and always as a positive; one is primarily one dimensional, a state of mind; the other encompasses the whole man, the whole body, the whole human experience.

Interestingly enough, the phrase translated “perfect peace” in Isaiah 26:3 is literally “shalom shalom”, a double portion of peace. Peace upon peace. Perhaps a peace so great that it defies description.

I believe a well known Biblical personage may have paraphrased this concept in his letter to the Philippians: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7)

Who would not want to experience this peace? How do we obtain this peace? Jesus is the Prince of Peace, His atonement alone is the source of such peace. In the New Testament we are admonished to “keep our eyes upon Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith”. I submit that the same concept is embodied in Isaiah 26:3.

The assurance stated at the beginning of the verse is that God will keep “him”, or “the one”, in perfect peace. Who is “him” or “the one”? The one is “whose mind is stayed on you”. The New Living Translation captures the concept beautifully, “all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”

Lastly, there is causation. What causes God to keep such a one in perfect peace? It’s not just that they have set their mind on God, it’s “because he trusts in You.” It all starts, and ends, there.

The Hebrew word here translated “trust” means to be bold, confident, secure, sure, be a careless one, to put confidence in. I love the thought of carelessness in this context. I am so confident that God has my back that I am without a care, I am “careless”. Not stupid, so cared for that I am care-less.

So in the midst of the covid-19 storm, a very real storm, where the winds of media coverage threaten to undo us, where waves of fear of the unknown threaten to shipwreck our faith, there is an antidote. Shalom, shalom. Peace, peace. Perfect peace. It is yours for the asking…

“Rejoice always… “

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Philippians 4:4

“Rejoice always;” 1 Thessalonians 5:16

Always, really?? In the original language of the New Testament, Greek, “always” means at all times. Yes, always. As in, I have always struggled with these verses so I just put them on the back burner and moved on. Today I bring them to the front burner…

The modern English definition of “rejoice”: to be glad; take delight. Synonyms: revel, exult, glory.

So let’s work this definition into Paul’s admonition to do so at all times. “My dog just died.” Be glad, delight, be pleased, revel, exult, glory. Worse, “My child just died.” Be glad, exult, glory. That’s just stupid. Beyond stupid, cruel. This interpretation and application is nonsensical and is simply not consistent with the law of love. So, it cannot be the proper interpretation and application. Perhaps something is lost in the transliteration…

Transliteration, the process of transforming, in this case, a Greek word into an English word. The Greek word used in both verses, cited above, is χαίρω. Got that? In English, the transliteration, is “chairó”. According to one lexicon, the root of the word means “to be favorably disposed, leaning towards”. Properly, to delight in God’s grace. Literally, to experience God’s grace, to be conscious of and glad for His grace. Further, it is closely related, a cognate (that is to share the same root or birth), to “charis”, which means grace and/or favor. Another lexicon suggests, “chairó” means “glad for grace” and it has a “direct etymological connection with charis (grace)”. Yet another commentator suggests that the Greek word for “chará”(joy) and “cháris”(grace) are cognate with “chaírō”(to rejoice), “they all share the same root and therefore the same core, fundamental meaning”.

First and foremost, what strikes me is what rejoicing is NOT in the original language. There is no sense of revelry, of doing a “happy dance” or sensual delight or sense of gaiety. There is no sense of smiling, laughing, or the lightheartedness that is suggested by the English definition of “rejoice”. It is not some shallow temporal emotional state. Rather, “chairó”, and its cognates, strike me as a deeper, more considered, even contemplative condition of mind and spirit that is more consistent with the concept of contentment, as over against happiness.

In the context of a relationship with God this Greek concept of rejoicing is eye opening. To delight in God’s grace. To lean into God. To be favorably disposed toward Him. These are notions consistent with a Father-child relationship. These are notions consistent with the law of love.

Lastly, we must consider the context in which Paul wrote these verses in order to understand his objective in so doing.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Phil. 4:5-8 (NASB)

This passage is found near the end of his letter, he is wrapping up his thoughts, these are his last words of instruction, therefore, they carry considerable weight. The theme, the emphasis, of these final words is on their state of mind and heart. Rejoicing is not a stand alone.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thess. 5:16-22 (NASB)

Once again, these represent Paul’s last words of instruction, this time to the Thessalonians. Do you see a theme? Compare the two passages and we see that rejoicing, giving thanks, guarding one’s mind, examining, dwelling on that which is good… are referenced in both. Again, rejoicing is not a stand alone. Rejoicing is inextricably linked to prayer, being thankful, meditating upon God’s grace, and paying attention to our thought-life. To rejoice is not to gin up an emotional state. Nor is it something that can be expected to sovereignly overwhelm us, lest Paul would not have given responsibility to the readers to invoke it. Given the etymology and the context how then might we apply the admonition to rejoice always?

When I am in a funk I find it very difficult to even think about rejoicing. However, I find that if I choose to pray, starting by simply finding things to be thankful for and continuing in that vein, mining the nuggets lodged in my memory of the manifest grace of God in my life, the darkness begins to lift. If I choose to begin to praise Him for all that He has done in my life, and especially if I choose to incorporate music, the light begins to dawn. As I choose to “lean toward” Jesus, as I choose to “delight in God’s grace”, as I choose to remain in a posture of listening to, and speaking with, Jesus (“prayer without ceasing”) I will find myself “rejoicing”, in the New Testament meaning of that word. It’s a place of experiencing the “shalom” of God, the peace of God that defies definition such that Paul refers to it as that which “surpasses all comprehension”.

When I perceive Paul’s admonition in this light I begin to see that his words are not so much a command, rather words of a loving father to his children. Why? Perhaps because he knew that it is impossible to rejoice and be depressed at the same time. It is impossible for evil to overshadow us when we are rejoicing in what God has done, and will do in us and for us. It is not some kind of litmus test to Christian maturity. It is not an end in and of itself. Rejoicing is a weapon that when properly wielded fends off all the fiery darts of the evil one. It is also a shelter, a place of rest in the midst of the storms of life. It’s a place of refreshment. Who wouldn’t want to dwell there at all times?

It has been said by those wiser than I, that giving thanks promotes mental health, and rejoicing promotes emotional/psychological health. Here’s to our health…

Does God harbor even one negative thought about you?

It’s more than a provocative question…

I propose that He does not and I ask you, dear reader, to suspend judgment for a minute or two. I promise it won’t hurt and the time spent will be better than listening to the “news” of the day. (Not saying much there.)  So please put off the temptation to immediately discard the notion as heretical or to disregard per any other source of resistance you might initially sense. Give yourself permission to simply consider the “what if”. What if it’s true? What if the all-powerful, all-knowing, Almighty God of the universe does not harbor a single negative thought about you? What if the ultimate Authority in the universe does not impute to you guilt or shame or disapproval or disappointment? What if you become persuaded that such is the case and then you ask yourself the follow-up question, “Do I harbor negative thoughts about myself?”

Given my experience, I might struggle to believe someone who would not answer that last question in the affirmative. However, if the ultimate Authority in the universe does not harbor negative thoughts about me, why would I want to continue to do so? Imagine what it would feel like to go an entire day without harboring a single negative thought about yourself, or anyone else. Pollyanna? Perhaps, but just now as I floated the idea by you did you find yourself sensing even a hint of optimism, perhaps hope, perhaps relief, perhaps peace? Perhaps a “wouldn’t that be wonderful”?  I propose it is not Pollyanna, rather it is the will of God for us. It is suppose to be our norm.

So let’s get to it. First, let’s define some terms. “Harbor” means to give shelter to. In this context, employing a nautical metaphor, it means to allow a thought to “drop anchor”.  All of us experience negative thoughts throughout a typical day. They rain down upon us via the media, from those around us and some have their genesis from within. The point here is that there is always a point of decision, sometimes so nearly automatic that we are not even cognizant of making a choice. That choice has to do with what to do with a negative thought, or any thought, when it comes our way. One such option is to “harbor” it. When we harbor negative thoughts about ourselves, others, the world we start down a path that can, and often does, lead to a downward spiral.

Second, the term “negative” can be very relative, subjective in nature. So for instance, some might perceive correction as a negative, I did something “wrong” which requires correction. I actually want correction in my life. Every correction is a true opportunity for growth. It’s not punitive, or at least it shouldn’t be. If God, or my spouse, wishes to correct me why wouldn’t I want to be corrected. If I am taking an unhealthy path why wouldn’t I want to be steered straight? True correction  is a manifestation of care, concern, love. The negative I am writing about is that force of thought that causes one to be critical of self or others. This negativity promotes discouragement and worse. This negativity steals our life, it is death-on-the-installment-plan.

Lastly, and necessary to my hypothesis, my starting place includes a philosophical presupposition that God exists and that He is a positive force. It is written that “God is love.” That is a baseline without which all bets are off. For those who might be thinking, “Oh yeah, were back to the ‘faith’ thing.” Yes, in deed, we all live by faith. It’s a big universe, no one has universal knowledge, therefore we all live by faith in some, in fact in many, aspects of everyday life. Treatment of that subject would require another blog or two.

Beyond definition of terms, why would a God who is love in His essence wish to harbor negative thoughts about you and I? It is written that love is patient, kind, endures, believes…  all positive thoughts. On the other side of the ledger, it is not judgmental, critical, punitive, resentful or bitter. So a God who is all these things, in His essence, would hold us in contempt, why?

You may well reply, “Isn’t He going to judge us?” Yes, it is written that we shall be judged. So think about judgment for just a moment. Is it truly a negative, in and of itself? It is defined as: “The act or process of judging; the formation of an opinion after consideration or deliberation.  An opinion or estimate formed after consideration or deliberation, especially a formal or authoritative decision.” If you are the plaintiff in a court case wherein you were wronged are you not seeking a judgment? Judgment is only a negative term if one is afraid of the outcome.

I actually look forward to that judgment. It will be the first time that I will be accurately judged by myself, or anyone else, in my entire life. Also, there is immeasurable relief found in the assurance that while certainly guilty, my pardon has already been obtained. Any judgment against me has already been satisfied in full. Actually, from a legal standpoint God must forbear, must forgive those in Christ Jesus. In a sense we enjoy the benefits of the legal concept of res judicata. Res judicata provides that once your case has been adjudicated you may not be charged again with the same offense. My case has already been adjudicated. I was found guilty. But, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Jesus paid the price for me, He satisfied the judgment against me. Legally speaking, God cannot charge me again. Given that state of the case, if God were to choose to harbor negative thoughts toward me wouldn’t He be thinking Jesus just didn’t do enough, His sacrifice was just not enough? He would be denigrating the work of His Son.

You might reply, “What about the sin problem?” Ah yes, the sin quotient. What is sin? It is the tendency, the proclivity, the default nature of humankind to wander from God and His precepts. Ironically, it is actually a product of love, for love requires a free will choice. Inherent in that free will choice is the option to choose poorly, to choose to disavow God and His goodness. However, for those “in Christ” sin has been removed as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12) I could list a very long list of verses affirming that notion. The proclivity to wander from love has been removed, done away with. As a believer, any such proclivity to continue to wander from God’s precepts are not due to our nature, because we were given a new nature. We are new creatures in Christ. Then why do I wander? I submit, first, I still have a free will and from time to time I choose poorly. Second, my old habit patterns may still be alive and well. Habits are merely patterns of thought, like harboring negative thoughts about myself. (As an aside, for believers, anything that is not of faith is sin. Harboring negatives thoughts about myself are evidence of a lack of faith, are they not?) Habits can be broken, my brain can be rewired, new neural pathways can be established. Habits are not my essence, they do not define me, they are not my nature. Jesus’ sacrifice has made sin a non-issue. Period. If we say otherwise we denigrate His sacrifice.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament states:

“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.”                   (Hebrews 10:1-4, 11-13 NASB, italics mine)

The writer is comparing the two biblical options for the forgiveness of sin. First under the Law, the old covenant, he makes the case that it never could secure for us forgiveness. For if the Law could secure forgiveness those who partook they “would no longer have had consciousness of sins”. Not only did they continue to have a consciousness of sin, the yearly sacrifice under the Law actually served to remind them of their sinful state. On the other hand, the sacrifice of Jesus offered once for all time, securing forgiveness of sins for all who believe, did what the Law could not do. Therefore, we who believe in and trust the sacrifice of Jesus should no longer have a consciousness of sin. That’s right, those of us in Christ should no longer have any consciousness of sin. In the original language consciousness means a persistent notion. We all know what it means in our experience. It is an awareness, sometimes a vague sense of lack, of guilt or shame, of inadequacy. It is the haunting, taunting thoughts we harbor in the recesses of our mind that come out in the unguarded moment to harass us. It is the source of so much negativity in our thinking. But, here you may protest, “If I don’t remain conscious of my own sin, If I don’t operate in an awareness of my own sin then who is minding the store?” It is written that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. It’s His job. He’s really good at it. Much better than you or I. Why not let Him do it? So, if sin, and all its attendant notions, are no longer an issue why are we fighting that battle? Jesus already fought that battle for us and won, “It is finished.”

I can feel the resistance to such a notion even now. Too good to be true. License, if we believe this notion we are liable to run amok. Let me just ask, “How is that working for you?” Been there, done that. I am nearly 70 and have been a “believer” for nearly 50 years. I am persuaded that every ounce of energy and focus spent on trying not to sin, etc. is a total and complete waste of time and a slap in the face of Jesus. Jesus set us free for freedom! Not my thought, see the Apostle Paul. He stated quite clearly that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood”. Last I checked I am flesh and blood. I am not suppose to be the problem any longer, rather I, like you, am called to be a part of the solution.  I am suppose to embody good news. Struggling against sin everyday doesn’t sound like good news to anyone. We are not likely to get very far as “ambassadors of Christ” if we are still focused on our own shortcomings, harboring negative thoughts about ourselves. And if we are harboring negative thoughts about ourselves are we not very likely, also, harboring negative thoughts about others. That state would be the antithesis of the commandment that Jesus charged us with, namely to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Assuming by now that you are either still with me or have written me off as a heretic, I conclude. It is well settled that “nature abhors a vacuum.” So does my brain. If I simply try to stop thinking about something, leaving an empty space, I am doomed to failure. It’s the old diet mentality, “I won’t eat, I won’t eat.” It doesn’t work. I must “put off” and “put on”. I cannot simply decide to remove negativity. It must be replaced. In order to do so we have to “repent”. That is we have to change the way we think, that’s all that word means. We must give ourselves permission to believe that it’s okay to reset our mental default settings. That is what I have been writing about, permission. Ultimately, I am proposing that the ultimate Authority in the universe has given us permission, actually commands us, to move from a negative default setting to a positive. How? Truth. Jesus taught that the “truth shall set(make) you free”.  What is the truth? Life as God sees it. Me from God’s perspective. Is there a gap between how He sees me and how I see me? Shouldn’t be. Ironically, that would be sin. Not a moral failure, rather missing the mark, the literal definition of sin. To the extent that my view of me does not line up with His view of me I need new eyes, I need new lenses, I need a new prescription. It’s been long enough, hasn’t it? Let’s lay down all the old religious baggage and take up the truth that sets us free.

Start today. Exalt the sacrifice of Jesus by purposing not to harbor a single negative thought about yourself, knowing that this is God’s will for you and, therefore, He shall provide the necessary grace. And, if you should fall off the horse and find yourself falling back into “harboring” habits of negativity, just stop and get back on the horse. No guilt. No disappointment. Waste no time thinking about the misstep. God is good, He never uses guilt or shame as a tool to shape you, never. Turn the tables… the best defense is a great offense. Harbor, drop anchor, in all the positives available to us through Christ Jesus. That’s Good News…

 

“Blessed are the Peacemakers… “

..It sounds so easy. It’s not.

Who or what do we think of when we think of the word “peacemaker”? Who are the people in our lives that we would consider likely candidates? They are most likely the non-confrontational, mercy people in your circle of friends.  They don’t argue or fight. They are the non-violent, pacifist types. We like them, they are safe to be around. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that these nice folk are peacemakers, based upon those attributes alone, because fear of conflict may well be a root motivation for them and while fear of conflict is natural, a true peacemaker cannot allow fear to direct or control. What is it that transforms one from being a person sensitive to conflict into a full-on peacemaker? In my humble opinion, it is not just the experience of , but “the embrace” of life’s most dynamic change agent, suffering.

It is truly one of life’s enigmas that authentic transformation of a life, it seems to me, is  always the product of tragedy, trauma, or pain on a level that overwhelms the emotional, psychological survival tools we develop along the way. It is not a suffering we ask for or can initiate. It is not an experience we can control, otherwise it would not be true suffering. However, suffering alone does not produce transformation or the whole world would be redeemed in some fashion by now. Suffering seems never to be in short supply. As has been said by those wiser and deeper than I, “In deep silence you can feel the pain of the whole world.”

The additional necessary element to transformation is “the embrace”. We must come to that place where we stop running from the fear that drives our lives, turn and embrace our experiences of suffering and/or the attendant fear. What are we afraid of? Suffering. How do we run? We are brilliant and very creative, we have created a bazillion ways to avoid facing our fear of pain and suffering. The easiest illustration that comes to mind is the concept of insurance. The U.S. insurance industry nets over $1 trillion a year in premiums! We are without a doubt the most insured nation in the history of the world. Why is there insurance for everything imaginable? Fear. Sit down and just brainstorm the number of insurance offerings available to us these days. It’s quite a social commentary.

Have you ever done a personal fear inventory? Set aside some time and consider just how much of what we do in our day-to-day lives is fear-based. Obviously, there are some real dangers that require responsible thought and action, but unfortunately, for many of us, fear plays far too great a motivation for getting up in the morning. We manage our lives driven by what might happen to our families, our significant others or ourselves if we were to let down our guard. We become OCD, schizoid, paranoid or some other newly labeled psychologically dysfunctional group. Of course, it is likely that we have been serving the fear master for so long that it has become a part of us, it is our default setting and it works… kinda.

For me, one of my most profound fears was that I would become a man just like my father. You see he abandoned his young family, sold everything out from under us and over time managed to self-destruct all the way to San Quentin. Not a great role model. My grandmother, who was one of the most merciful people I have ever known, one day said, without intending any harm, “Oh Johnny just don’t be like your daddy.” That statement, combined with the already ingrained shame by association, set me on a path that culminated in my mid-30s, when through a profound spiritual experience, I was shown quite brilliantly that I had been living most of my life driven by the primary purpose, not to be like my father. The fear of being like my father was so strong, and yet below the radar of my own consciousness, that while he had practiced transgressing the law, I became a practitioner of the law. I was paid to put people like him in prison. (I am some kind of classic psychological case study on so many levels!)

Negative examples can be very powerful, but they cannot win the day in the long run. The fear I speak of actually led me to obtain an education, supplied me with the power to endure, persevere and succeed on many levels. But, there is a price to be paid and at some level a fear unchecked can eat away at our soul and steal our lives. Once I embraced this revelation, about my father and my motivation, I was left floundering for a time, which confirmed to me the veracity of this mystical message. I began to lose motivation at work and passed it off as “burn out”. Ultimately, I had to make a change because I could no longer honestly perform the role. In reality, and only in retrospect did I realize (honestly, only as I wrote this) that my motivation disappeared once I made peace with my father. I, also, consequently made peace with myself. The fear that had driven me for most of my life was disarmed and that form of motivation cut off.

As an important aside, my foundation of faith supplied me with the necessary courage to acknowledge and face that fear. That faith was based in no small part by the manner in which the revelation came to me. I did not seek it. I was not even consciously aware that I was operating under that specific fear. The revelation was a mercy, grace manifest. Perhaps others can summon the courage to face their fears without faith in God, for me it was central to the revelation and the transformation.

Back to my thesis. Peace making is not for the faint of heart. I became a peacemaker, not of own accord, at least not of my own initiation. A peacemaker of my own soul. I had to come to terms, not a cease-fire, but a real resolution in order to disarm my fear. It started with the embrace, an honest appraisal and acceptance of what is. The truth about my dad and about me. I had to forgive him, seventy times seven. I had to come to the place where I could be genuinely thankful for those things that my dad gave me either by his words, his actions or via DNA.  He was not evil, what he did was “evil” in a sense, but there were reasons for his actions that I will never know, but as a fellow human I can understand, even without knowing what they were. Once, actually as many times as necessary, I forgave my dad and began to acknowledge the good things he gave me, the fear of being like him began to dissipate. The patently obvious truth that I was not my dad became easier to not only believe as a psychological and biological truth, but I was actually able to receive that truth deep into my soul. I could then begin to know me in a new way, to forgive me, to love me, maybe for the first time in my life. The result…   freedom, peace, wholeness. And, a hope for a future previously unknown, unconsidered, unexpected.

Incidentally, the biblical terms for peace, in both Hebrew and Greek, have to do with much more than simply the lack of conflict, rather they carry the idea of wholeness, completeness, health, welfare. A peacemaker is one who not only stems conflict, but restores life and hope.

If you care to, read the Beatitudes again sometime and you will note that there are eight groups of people who Jesus delineates, yet only one group is called “the sons of God”. Peacemakers held a special place in the list of those who would be blessed. It’s a high calling. It’s not for wimps. But, neither is it only for the “gifted”, the “anointed”, etc. Jesus wasn’t speaking to the highest caste of folks on that hillside. He hadn’t hand-picked the cream of the crop of Jewish society. It was me. It was you. It still is.

So, when we are touched by the current political and cultural civil war, a cold war that threatens the very fabric of our nation, marked by acrimony, division, even hate, consider taking up the challenge to be a peacemaker. Let’s make it our aim to speak the truth in love. To be quick to hear and slow to speak, especially with our loved ones. As we consider our own bias, and lay aside our own need to be “right”, let us consider the big picture.

We, as individuals, have no control over the machinations that drive Washington, D.C. or Wall Street. The media thrives, makes huge profits, on all the upset they themselves exist to stir up. Fear is their primary hook. The sky is always falling! They continually sow seeds of discord, division and strife and they could care less who gets hurt in the process. They are corporations. What is the primary goal of such corporations? Profits. The talking heads spew forth whatever is necessary to secure the almighty ratings lest they lose their source of income.

So what are they stirring up currently? How about the Senate confirmation hearings on the latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh? That was easy. There is a lot of emotion, a lot of energy (not necessarily of the healthy variety) and big difference of opinion as to the veracity of Ms. Ford as over against that of Mr. Kavanaugh. The talk shows are at full throttle. The network ratings are jumping. The public eats up every possible clue or hint or new angle. It would be a soap opera, but unfortunately the lives of real human beings are being deeply impacted by the goings-on.

If you find yourself supporting Mr. Kavanaugh might it be because you yourself are a male, or you have a son or a father or a brother who could find themselves in the very difficult position of defending such a charge? You fear that if this could happen to Kavanaugh perhaps it could happen to you, or someone you love. The fear might prompt you to question, “How far is this MeToo movement going to go, anyway?”

If, on the other hand, you side with Ms. Ford is there a possibility that you are a female and you or a friend, or a sister, or a daughter, have been victimized in much the same way and you are sick and tired of men conducting themselves in such a manner without any accountability? The sense of injustice and the fear associated with a culture that allows men to get away with this brutish behavior, while interrogating the victim publicly and, thus, exposing her to further shame may make it very difficult for you to hear Mr. Kavanaugh.

I understand that this is a complex issue and I don’t mean to be flippant or trite. For the purposes of this post my treatment of it is brief, but I trust you get my point.

In truth, can we absolutely know what happened 35 years ago between two people that none of us know personally? We weren’t there. The only testimony taken was from the two parties. We can listen to their testimonies and judge their respective credibility employing every tool known to mankind and come to some conclusion if we wish, but there is nothing close to a guarantee that in the end we will be right. We only know what the media provides, and, likely, only from the menu of our choosing.  Yet, we are keen to take a position, a stand, and defend that position even if it may mean an argument with a spouse or a friend. Even if it may jeopardize a relationship. Why?

Even if we knew the truth. What would it change for us? We don’t get to vote on the issue of confirmation. We get to vote for our Senator, who votes on the issue. Our remedy is to vote for or against that Senator in the next election. Or, in the alternative, vote for a different President if you don’t like the nominees put forth. Really there is not a lot more that we can do. One thing for sure, getting angry, upset and fighting with our friends and family is not going to change the result in Washington.

The senate will vote. Kavanaugh will either be confirmed or not, irrespective of what we believe. If confirmed, he will serve out a life term along with a court of eight other justices. If not, another “victim” will be led to slaughter chasing that pinnacle of lawyerly status, Supreme Court Justice. Given the political climate and what is at stake, the likelihood is that if there is another round it will be every bit as ugly.

How will this effect my life? Not much. That’s not to say that there aren’t important issues at stake. But, I will continue to live according to the principles I have carved out over six decades of falling, flailing and occasionally finding some success. I know I have a civic responsibility to know what is going on and to engage at some level, but I don’t and I won’t allow them to steal my peace or, more importantly jeopardize my relationships. You all are too important to me to let that happen.

A good friend sent me a great alternative to the current conflagration, a photo of her grandson running down the sidewalk. What better place to focus one’s time, energy and emotion? Wisdom.

If I were king of the world (let’s all stop and thank God that’s not the case!), I would call for a six month media boycott. Can you imagine? All of the crap that they have stirred up would settle to the ground. The media would go bankrupt or they would be forced to change their game. Normal folk could get back to living their lives peacefully, with dignity, no longer hating their neighbor or their brother or sister because they have the wrong letter in front of their name. No longer would we be addicted to the TV, or our phones, or our computers waiting for the next delicious, salacious crumb to fall from the media table of our choice. Outpatient rehab centers would be overwhelmed!

I know, I’m a dreamer. But, maybe I’m not the only one…

 

 

 

 

“A Hearing Heart… “

We all want to hear God. I find it one part amusing, one part maddening that most Christian teachers, authors, lecturers are want to say that we can all hear God it’s just a matter of faith and/or exercises and/or activation and/or… I believe that they are sincere and I believe that they are at least partially correct, after all they speak from their own personal experience. HOWEVER, why then are there so many who do not hear the voice of God on a daily, continuing basis?

Some to be sure aren’t listening or asking. Many of those simply don’t believe He speaks, so why would they listen. Many others believe He speaks, but not to them, only to the anointed, the gifted, etc. I, frankly, don’t pretend to know. Here is what I do know based upon my experience, my observations of the life experience of others and what I have gleaned from Scripture.

In truth, I don’t know anyone, personally, who has heard the audible voice of God. I have not read of many who have had that experience. When referencing “hearing” God what most mean, apart from dreams or visions, is an impression, a thought, sometimes described as that “still small voice”, which is really no voice at all. Sometimes it is a mental picture or seeing a word spelled out, but mostly it is just an “impression”. In the secular world it might be called intuition or a premonition or a hunch.

There is a book entitled “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell that is secular treatment of that phenomenon perhaps most of us have experienced wherein somehow we just knew what to do or the correct decision to make without knowing all of the facts necessary to act or decide, yet it turned out to be exactly the right move or decision. While Mr. Gladwell’s perspective, at least in the book, I would describe as secular, I wondered as I read how much of what he described was really the voice of God manifest in the hearts and minds of people by his grace.

Whatever we may call it, however we may experience it one thing is for sure… it is by faith. It almost always requires a risk on the part of the “hearer”, especially if action is required. And, sometimes we “hear” wrong, for all kinds of reasons. There are no guarantees in this life.

Yet, “hearing from God” is of utmost importance to believers. Did not Jesus tell us that his sheep will know his voice? The scriptures are wonderful but they will never give us the specific information need to live our lives. The scriptures won’t tell me who to marry or where to live or where to work, etc. The Holy Spirit may highlight a verse out of context to give us direction, but that is decidedly different from a strict exegesis. Purists shutter at the thought!

For me the most powerful scriptural example of hearing God is found in the life of Solomon. Law school profs still cite the “wisdom of Solomon” in reference to the case he decided by ordering the infant to be divided in half. (1 Kings 3:16-25) How did Solomon obtain such wisdom? The answer is found earlier in 1 Kings 3…

Solomon was just a youngster when his father David died and he was understandably feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of filling his father’s shoes. I find it interesting that the story is typically recited assuming that Solomon initiated the transaction with God by asking for wisdom. Not so…

“One night at Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “Ask, and I will give it to you!” God did the initiating and he did so via a dream.  According to this passage Solomon did not ask specifically for wisdom, as in commonly thought, rather … “So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:5,9)

The Hebrew word for “understanding” is a word that literally means to hear, understand, comprehend, listen, obey. To the Hebrews “heart” in this context did not mean the pumping muscle in one’s chest, but rather the seat of intellect, emotions and will. So Solomon literally asked for the ability to hear God in his heart of hearts. Doesn’t that make more sense than to imagine that God somehow just injected Solomon with wisdom for every situation he would ever face for the rest of his kingship? Can’t you just imagine Solomon sitting on his throne and under his breath asking, “Well God what is wisdom on this case?” God answers, Solomon hears and what comes out of his mouth is wisdom.

Isn’t that what we want? We may not be reigning or judging over a kingdom, but don’t we all want and need to hear God? Scriptural principles are wonderful, but they are no substitute for hearing God in any particular context. I have long said that while it is wonderful that “God so loved the world”, what I need to know is that God loves me. When He communicates to me, by whatever avenue He chooses, He is really saying, “I care about you, I know all about you, I see you, in essence… I love you .” And, that is the real reason we need to “hear” His voice.

Last thought… Isn’t it interesting that God came to Solomon in a dream and while the entire transaction took place in a dream state Solomon’s request was granted and given effect in his very conscious every day experience? That’s the substance of another blog…

 

 

 

“Politics… Ugh!”

The etymology of the word as provided by that outstanding linguist, Tommy Smothers, says it all… “poly” meaning “many” and “tics” meaning “blood sucking vermin”.

It is a grievous thing to observe the media pump out hate speech 24/7. In truth it doesn’t really matter what side your on… democrat, republican, liberal/progressive, conservative, etc. Hating someone because they don’t subscribe to your political philosophy, on its face, is ludicrous. Yet, here we are, more divided than I can remember for the six decades of political history lodged in my memory bank.

Of course, one side blames the other for the hate, which somehow justifies their hate. In the meantime, the media gets rich off of the poison they pump into the atmosphere. After all it’s all about ratings and it seems the more outrageous the higher the ratings. Think about it… if everything were peaceful and quiet they would have nothing to report, nothing to exploit, no one to harangue. The media loves it when things get stirred up. All those political commentators, on both sides, only have a job because they know how to stir up their base. And how we love being stirred up, we listen to “our” side, whether it be Fox or MSNBC, hoping for another juicy morsel to confirm our worst thoughts and feelings about the “enemy”, the “wrong” side of the political spectrum. We ask our like-thinking insular group of friends, “How can they be so stupid?” Hours and hours spent in front of the tube, or on our laptops, or phones. It’s a national addiction. It’s a spiritual experience. The question is from whence does this spirit hail?

It seems to me that the current political climate is getting worse by the day, maybe by the hour. It, also, seems that this political storm will likely culminate in violence. If the President gets impeached there will likely be protests on the right. If the last President and the last democrat candidate for President are charged with corruption all hell will break loose on the left. No matter who takes to the streets the other side will no doubt have some in their ranks who feel the need to respond in kind. Essentially we are looking at a civil war which is now in the “cold war” stage, but could blossom into a “nuclear” conflagration at any time given the right triggering event.

In light of this unhappy political landscape I have a question. Do we really believe that the politics is that important? Do we really believe politicians are running this country? This world? Really?

All of history would indicate otherwise. It’s always been about power to amass wealth. The truly powerful place their minions where they need them and run things from behind the curtain. Somehow we Americans in our ethnocentric naiveté think we are different. We see America as God’s political gift to the world, the first constitutional republic complete with history’s greatest Constitution. While I would agree that we have enjoyed the blessings of the Almighty, to somehow think that the country operates based upon the principles we are taught in our high school civics classes is just beyond the pale. If you have had the opportunity to work in or around government, as I have a various times in my working career, you will see a much different side of how our country actually operates.

Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh was a political hack of the first degree. He served in the California State Assembly and was the State Treasurer for many years. He was no altar boy. He was irreverent, vulgar, but he told the truth. He was made famous in political lore by such quotes as, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” And, his view of lobbyists: “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them you’ve got no business being up here.” Of course his political career pre-dated the media as we know it. He, and his cronies, got away with much that was never reported in the newspapers or in the 5:00 news.

Politics is still a dirty business. We all know that. Why is it dirty? Because politicians are “persuaded” to act as they do because they are either bought off or leveraged in some way. Period. Look behind each of the Presidents from 1900 on and you will find lots of ugly skeletons. Some a lot more than others. Both, democrats and republicans. Yet we want to believe that the people on “our” side of the political aisle have it right and are pure in their motivations. Please. How do people get elected to Congress, making a salary of about 200 grand a year, serve a few two-year terms and retire wealthy?

I’m not conspiratist but how much do you know about the Council on Foreign Relations? Sounds like a governmental body. It is not. It was founded and funded in 1921 by the very rich and powerful to protect and forward their agenda. Since then 21 secretaries of defense, 19 secretaries of the treasury, 17 secretaries of state, 15 CIA directors (in just 70 years of existence), and several presidents have hailed from the Council on Foreign Relations, irrespective of whether they identified as Democrat or Republican.

David Rockefeller, one of the founders of the CFR, admitted the following in his memoirs:

“For more than a century ideological extremists at either end of the political spectrum have seized upon well-publicized incidents such as my encounter with Castro to attack the Rockefeller family for the inordinate influence they claim we wield over American political and economic institutions. Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as “internationalists” and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure — one world, if you will. If that’s the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it.”

How about the Federal Reserve? Founded in 1913 via federal legislation signed into law by Woodrow Wilson. Sounds truly “federal”, as in a federal agency or department. It’s not. It’s really more like a private bank and is owned by private individuals, many of whom are not U.S. citizens, yet they set U.S. monetary policy. There is a lot more behind the Federal Reserve, but my point is that the CFR and the Fed are just two examples of agencies that appear to be very democratic, even governmental, but they do not operate as such.

Ultimately, my point is you and I have very little say in how this country operates. Am I suggesting we should not participate? By no means. Vote. Get involved, especially locally where we can make a difference. But, let’s not get sucked into the media circus that produces so much vile hatred for one another. We all know that one of the really unfortunate facets of social media is that people say and/or print things that they would not say to another person’s face. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to stop before we hit the “send” button and apply a simple test before we publish our thoughts to the world? “Would I say that to their face?”

Don’t get sucked into this media generated civil war. Turn off the TV and get off the internet. Think about it. How do you feel after you have spent hours, or even minutes, listening to or reading the drivel they call “news”? Happy? At peace? Warm and fuzzy? Rested? Joyful? Do yourself a favor, instead of listening to political crap call a friend or talk to your kids or have a cup of coffee with your spouse or your significant other. Go plant some flowers. Take a walk in the woods. Go ride a bike. Read a “good” book. In short, take your life back and do something healthy for yourself and those around you.

The next time someone wants to ratchet up the political rhetoric why not artfully, graciously let the air out of the balloon and refuse to engage. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Do you remember the clarion call of the hippies in the 60’s, “Make love, not war” and “give peace a chance”. Just because your brother votes for the other side he is not your enemy. And who is your brother? Jesus said, pointing to the mass of people before him, “These are my mothers and brothers.”