Thursday, August 29, 2013

Basic Christian Mysticism

The power of God is the Spirit of God.  If we have the Spirit, we obtain the power of God within ourselves.  Without the Spirit, we are in the flesh, the natural self, and we end up pursuing the weaknesses of the flesh—greed, fear, anger and desire.  Because that is our natural state, where we end up if we are left to our own devices.  Not because we are bad people but because these are extremes of how God built us.  He created us to rule, to make order, to create equity and to love.  But our emotions go to extremes and our justice becomes judgment, our order becomes control and our caution becomes anxiety.   That’s just how we roll.

To have balance, we need the Holy Spirit.  Love is the fruit of the Spirit, the natural outcome of living in the Spirit.  And love is the true balance.  Some will say that compassion or self-sacrifice is an extreme, but in reality they are extremes because our society has become so imbalanced toward judgment or hatred, that these reactions are there to create balance in the world.  The true center is love.  The true balance is care for all, no matter what they’ve done to you.  And the Spirit is in the world to direct us to that true balance.  To help us rejoice in others, no matter what they’ve done to us.  To help us have self-control so we do not hurt others.  To help us have mercy so that others may reach their true balance.

If we do not have the Spirit, we will tend to drift. This doesn’t mean that we won’t pursue love, but we will find it difficult, almost impossible, to have love as our center.  If we are in the Spirit, living in the Spirit, we have the power to release, the energy to delve into love.  Outside of the Spirit, we are pursuing love on our own, and we inevitably create laws that we demand everyone follow.  This is a warped love.  True love has the power to be flexible, to see the world through other’s eyes.  And that only comes through the power of the Spirit.

So how do we obtain the Spirit?  How do we obtain this power of loving that so eludes us?

Asking for the Spirit
If we desire the Spirit, we must ask for the Spirit.  “Ask and you shall receive…  How much more will the Father give the Spirit to those who ask?”  The Spirit comes by asking, and the Father freely gives.  The Father always wants to give what we truly need, and He knows that we need the Spirit more than anything else.  The Spirit makes us who the Father wants us to be, and so the Spirit is the one gift the Father gives freely, if we would but ask.  But we need to ask.  Because if we think that we can live independently, without the Father’s help, the Father will allow us to live that way.  It isn’t what He wants, but he will let us do that.  But if we ask for the Father’s help, then He will gladly give it, He will gladly give us the Spirit.

The Kingdom of God
We are living in the wrong nation if we want to live in the Spirit.  Our nation doesn’t work by love, it works by pursuing greed and anger.  In living in this nation, we might have experiences of the Spirit, but they will be short-lived, temporary highlights of our life.  The only way to live in the Spirit is to immigrate to a different nation, a nation that is empowered only by the Spirit.  This nation is called the Kingdom of God, and Jesus is the King.  To be a part of this nation, one does not need to be a Christian necessarily.  Rather, one must be committed to Jesus as the King.  To immigrate to Jesus’ nation is to receive the Spirit as a gift, daily.  Those who only live as Christians do not experience this, and often they do not recognize the Spirit when he comes.  But those who love Jesus recognize the Spirit and seek to live in the Spirit, even as Jesus did.  They know that the Spirit isn’t miracles (although he sometimes uses miracles), isn’t doctrine (although he encourages faith and trust), isn’t correct practice (although he guides to right action), but love.   And those who dwell in the kingdom encourage others to the Holy Spirit of love as well.

Listening to Jesus
Jesus lived life in the Spirit to the full.  If we want to see what a life in the Spirit looks like, we need to experience Jesus’ life.  Jesus is the model.  Jesus is also the one who explains.  He lets us know how to pursue the Spirit and how to be empowered to love.  But most important of all, Jesus lets us know what love looks like.  There are many things that claim to be “love”.  There are many people who claim to be lovers.  But the Father’s love is the love of Jesus.  Jesus came to show us love, to define love through his words and his deeds.  The more we listen to Jesus, the more we observe him, the better we understand what love is, and the easier we find it is to reject the cheap substitutes.

Turning Away
In order to live in the Spirit, it is not enough for us to pursue love, we must be rid of the things that keep us away from love.  The Spirit will lead us to what these things are.  In fact, the Spirit speaks to us all the time about avoiding the things that squeeze love out of our hearts, that limits our mercy and compassion and sacrifice.  If we keep the things that destroy our love, then the Spirit cannot do the work that he wants to do in us.  Be rid of those things, those actions, those pursuits that limit the Spirit of love.

Trusting the Spirit
More than likely, the Spirit has already been speaking to us.  Perhaps we can remember the last thing the Spirit told you.  Perhaps the Spirit is pleading with us to be rid of something.  Perhaps the Spirit is compelling us to make a step that is difficult to make.  Perhaps the Spirit is encouraging us to do something we just haven’t gotten around to.  Whatever it is, listen to the Spirit, do it.  Often the Spirit will withdraw until we show that we are ready to walk with him.  Living with the Spirit is like any other intimate relationship, it is a companionship of trust.  If we show that we trust the Spirit, then the Spirit will open up more to us.  If we do not trust the Spirit, then we limit our relationship with the Spirit.  But if we listen to the Spirit, then we can pursue our relationship with love.

Practice Your Joy in the Father
Each of us has something that helps us experience joy in the Father.  For some, it is experiencing the Father’s creation, for others it is participating with the Father in growing His creation.  For some, it is embedding oneself in music, for others it is reading God’s word.  For some it is the ecstasy of grateful prayer, for others it is the hard work of interceding.  For some, joy is found with the poor, for others, joy is found in dancing.  There are many, many ways to experience the joy of the Father, and each of us have different ways to do that.  To be enlivened in the Spirit is often found through joyful express of being with the Father.  Be aware of pursuits that take us away from love.  If our expression limits our capacity to love, then we do not have the full joy the Father wants us to have.  But if our expression is a part of love, is a partner with love, then the Spirit fills us to the full and overflowing to all around us.


As in any relationship, we must take time to listen. If we are constantly busy, constantly distracted, constantly talking, then we cannot hear the Spirit.  If we do not hear, we cannot experience the voice of the Spirit.  If we do not pause, we will never experience the peace of the Spirit out of which flows love.  The Spirit wants us to do acts of love, but the Spirit also pleads with us to stop all acts and just rest in him.  After working hard in the Spirit, to rest in the Spirit is like experiencing beauty in our soul.  It is awe-inspiring, powerful, and deep.  It is not always easy to find time for this.  If you have small children or constant daily distractions, we may not have an opportunity for this silence.  But if you can, pursue it.  This deep peace isn’t to be our lives, but it is meant for a respite, an enlivening so we can continue to pursue the life of love in the Spirit.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I Wish Jesus Was Old

Jesus is my Lord and my guide, my King and Teacher.  Every important principle for my life I learned from him and from those who took following him seriously: Paul the Apostle, Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, and others.  Jesus is the only true teacher, the only one who knows the reality behind the screen, and he showed us much about living life.

At the same time, I am realizing more than ever that Jesus only lived half of a human life.  His life was full, and he experienced the weakness of humanity.  But there are some areas of weakness I wish he had experienced so he could give us words of wisdom.

Jesus was a radical, protesting against the state, and giving relief to the outcast.  But I wish he had become an old radical, knowing what to do when his body no longer had the energy to sustain what he had begun.
Jesus was numbered with the transgressors, but I wish he had experienced being in prison long term to help us know how to deal with the criminals who are peers and criminals who are authorities.

Jesus  was always brilliant and wise and a great debater.  Sometimes I wish he had experienced mental illness to let us know what to do when our soul’s needs simply overwhelm us.

Jesus was completely innocent and without sin, so he could die for our sins.  But sometimes I wish he had been afflicted with an addiction so he could tell us how to overcome it.

Jesus was persecuted and had many enemies.  I wish he knew what it was like to have the most dangerous, destructive enemy be within him, to give us some wisdom there.

Jesus was harsh on hypocrites and kind to the sinners.  I wonder what he would say to the church people today who aren’t leaders, but who are sincerely wrong in their religious ideals?  Would he yell at them, or gently correct them or simply comfort them in their sorrows?

Jesus taught us to love.  What would he say to the people I know who consider “love” as a dirty word, a standard that is simply too high for them to reach?

Jesus’ dark night of the soul lasted for but a night.  And even then, angels silently came to minister to him. What if his dark night lasted for years, even decades?  What if the Father’s voice became silent? What if he stumbled blindly for years, attempting to love with whatever energy he had, but was no longer sure of his path, was no longer confident? If the only sure word we receive from others is how we are a liar, inadequate, a train wreck?  How can we follow where there is no path?

Father, give us light in the darkness
Give us wisdom for our ignorance
Give us hope in the chaos
Let us do the greater works that Jesus was unable to do

"Hard To Get" by Rich Mullins

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Long Live the Riff Raff

All the homosexuals and the homeless and the drug dealers and sex workers and meth addicts and convicted child pornographers came to Jesus to listen to him. And the conservative evangelicals and the Bible scholars denounced him, “He is opening the door of the church to the wicked.”

But Jesus told them this story, “Look, if you had a hundred cars and one of them was stolen, wouldn’t you forget about all the other ninety nine and just focus on the one until it was found? You’d call the police, call your neighbors and be generally freaked out—not about the ninety nine, but for the one that was lost. Then, when it is found, you would drive it home proudly and happily. And you’d call your neighbors and the police and say, ‘Praise God! My stolen car was found!” It is this very joy that God has when a single sinner repents and comes back to God, away from his sins. He loves that more than ninety nine church-goers who only ever say the right things.

“Suppose there was a woman with ten coins, worth a thousand dollars each and one of them came up missing. Wouldn’t she take out her flashlight and turn all the furniture upside down until it was found? Then, once it’s found then she calls up her neighbors and say, ‘Yeah, I had lost this expensive coin, but praise God, now I’ve found it.’ Even so does God rejoice over one sinner who turns back to God away from his sin.”

Child pornographers?  Really?
Okay, so we know that Jesus hung out with tax collectors, but do we have to go so far as to say he hung out with drugies and child pornographers? Oh, yes, these are exactly the kind of folks Jesus hung out with. He welcomed those whom the Standard Religious Society (SRS, or, if you please, the church) didn’t want to have anything to do with. These were the ones that the SRS called “sinners”, but many of them really weren’t, or at least no more than anyone else. The tax collectors were folks who worked for the Romans to collect tolls for their roads. While some tax collectors DID cheat the Romans and others (like Zaccheus in Luke 19), but these toll collectors did no such thing. They didn’t make much, but they didn’t collect enough to cheat the Romans. So they had a job, just a job. But because they worked for the Romans they were automatically rejected by the SRS (i.e. the church).

So Jesus, were he here today, he would hang out with those who were “unacceptable” in the church’s eyes today. He would hang out with the homeless who are often excluded from the church simply because they don’t have good enough hygiene. He would hang out with those who belonged to cult groups like Samaritans (or like Mormons today) and explain to them the heart of God’s truth. He would hang out with the homosexuals and drunks who are unsure of their reception, even if they repent. He would hang out with the druggies and tell them about the gospel, welcoming them, eating with them, hoping to bring them—or to keep them—in God.

Who are the Riff-Raff?
Jesus targeted three groups that were set outside of the church. He welcomed the ones who were just not good enough to be in a “proper” church—Samaritans, the lame, the blind, women, the Gentiles. All of these groups were people who could be in right standing with God, but they were set out of the Temple for one reason or another. The church, like the Temple of old, has a pretty strict idea of who belongs to it. No, they don’t set up rules for it, but they set boundaries through their subtle but negative reactions to those who are poor, of different beliefs, or of a different culture. The church today is as cultural as it is spiritual—sometimes it is more culture than Spirit. And those who do not belong to the culture is outcaste.

Another group that Jesus targeted is the sinner. Some of these are professional sinners, such as prostitutes and tax collectors—those whose very profession excluded them from good graces in God’s community. Some are sinners by what they did—adultery, theft, rebellion—and they are painted as such for the rest of their life for one sin. These are like those who are in jail or prison for crimes done. While some churches might accept them, they certainly don’t allow them near their children. Again, the welcome is only partial.

The other group Jesus specifically targeted is the judged. These are people who were judged by God or by people and they have the mark of judgment against them. In Jesus’ day they are the demon possessed or the lepers. Today, they may be sufferers of AIDS or those going through withdrawal from drugs or alcohol or some other addiction. They may be people who have chronic mental illnesses. At first they might be welcome into today’s church, but then they would be rejected because they are “too difficult” or “cause too many disruptions.”

Should the church Welcome the Riff Raff?
Absolutely. If it was good enough for Jesus, then it is good enough for the church. If God sees sinners repenting as more important than a bunch of people who go to church regularly, then maybe we need to stop growing our churches and getting out on the street. Jesus didn’t just sit in the temple, looking for the riff raff to come to him. He didn’t just have a seeker’s service. Rather, he went out and established a party in every village he went to, and shared the gospel at the party. He attracted the riff raff with the kind of gathering they liked, in their area, and then spoke a message that wasn’t easy for them to hear, but it was the truth. Not everyone believed, but it was important. So the church doesn’t just need to welcome the riff raff, they need to go out where they live and give them a party.

Why should we do this? Because these riff raff—even if they’ve been following Jesus for years, they feel that they are second class Christians, or that they have no chance of being right with God at all. They think that their lives are apart from God and there is no acceptance for them. How is this? Because the church has separated themselves from the riff raff. As long as the church will have nothing to do with the riff raff, the riff raff figure that they don’t need God, either.

Yet Jesus focused his ministry on the riff raff. Jesus loves the riff raff. And Jesus’ first church was full of the riff raff—more than the “normal” folks.

How are the Riff Raff saved?
This is the easiest question to ask, but the hardest one to live out. We know that everyone is saved by faith in Jesus, by their devotion to God, their repentance from sin and their reliance on the Holy Spirit. That’s how everyone is saved, without exception, forever and ever, amen.

But the church doesn’t act that way. Rather they act like the homeless are saved by pushing through paperwork to gain homes. They act like the addict is saved by going to some anonymous group and never relapsing. They act like the homosexual is saved by getting married to someone of the opposite sex. They act like the mentally ill person is saved by taking medication. Now, there’s nothing wrong with these things. But they aren’t THE answers for people with these problems.

The only way anyone is saved is through Jesus and reliance on the Holy Spirit. And Jesus and the Spirit will lead the outcast person to the things they need for their lives. Sometimes the answer will be homes, marriage, medication and dishwashers and everything that makes up a middle class life. But for many people, it won’t.

Jesus, in calling the riff raff, chose to be homeless. He chose to be rejected. He chose to be without a family. And many of his followers went the same way. Jesus became homeless to welcome the homeless. He became familyless to welcome the familyless. He became penniless to welcome the penniless. He became rejected to welcome the rejected. And so we cannot insist that the outcast—or even the middle class—to be a part of the church must have homes, families, money and acceptance.

If the Riff Raff aren’t in the church, the church isn’t of Jesus

Great song by Casey Neill, "Riff Raff"

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Twelve Ethical Principles I Believe In

1.  I believe in freedom
To grant everyone the God-given freedom they have to make their own choices, even if poor

2.  I believe in tolerance.
Accepting that others believe differently than I and act differently than I, while I'll still stand firm in who Jesus gave me to be.

3.  I believe in responsibility
Whatever results from our actions, I resolve to deal with the negative results and make them positive

4.  I believe in community
In whatever community I live in, I resolve to live by the principles of that community, even if uncomfortable or difficult.

5.  I believe in faithfulness 
I will keep my word and my loyalties in relationship

6.  I believe in doing no harm 
In as much as I am able, I will never, under any circumstances, damage another.

7.  I believe in the Golden Rule
I will treat others with the same amount of respect, love, care, compassion, and consideration that I would be treated.

8.  I believe in compassion
I try to put myself in the other person’s need, and then try to meet it

9.  I believe in generosity
I try to never keep anything for myself that someone else needs more

10.  I believe in self-sacrifice
I meet other’s needs even if it means to sometimes not meet my own

11.  I believe in courage
I will stand up for Jesus and His gospel in all situations, especially with other believers

12.  I believe in grace
In as much as God gives me the grace to do so, I will always give a person another chance.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

What Do You REALLY Believe?

Who Am I, Really?
It is often quoted, “You are what you eat.” But I am not a tuna sandwich or a quesadilla. Perhaps what we eat gives us the energy to be who we are, but it is not who we are.

Rather, it is our thoughts and beliefs that make us who we are. We do not name ourselves according to our culinary preference, but we proudly tell others the names that display what we believe. Our church group (what we believe about God), our political leanings (what we believe about how to help our country), our sports team (what we believe about that team—namely, they are great)—these are the things we talk about to indicate who we are (as well as other things, like occupation)

However, our beliefs are as complex as our thinking, and at times we say we believe something that contradicts what we believe about something else. And we also will say that we believe one thing and do another. I can say that I believe that people should be nice to one another, but if I found out my neighbor took my television without my permission then I might not be so nice to him. My wife would then point out the contradiction between what I say and what I did, and I will explain it to her: “You see, I think that we should generally be nice to each other, but if someone takes something from me, then I don’t have to be nice.” The reasoning may or may not be valid, but I only came up with the reason to excuse what I did. The reality is, what I said I believed originally—“People should be nice to each other,”— is different from what I really believed— “I will be nice to others as long as they are nice to me.”

Given that what we say we believe is so often contradicted by what we do, how do we know what we really believe. I say I believe in Jesus—but do I really? And how do I know? I think that if I make statements of belief—“I believe that Jesus is Lord”, that will be enough. If I know something, “Jesus rose from the dead” or “Airplanes are safe,” does that mean I believe in it?

Evaluating What We Really Believe In
Jesus recognized that often what we say and what we believe are two different things. This is why he gave us a test to find the true character of a person—what they really believe in, whether they are really good and bad. Jesus said, “We know a tree by its fruit. We know that a tree is an apple tree because it bears apples. And we know that a fig tree can’t produce pears. Even so, we know what a person is really like by their actions and careless speech.” (Matthew 7:16-20 and 12:33-36). Thus, we know what people really believe by how they behave in certain areas in life.

Below are six areas that, according to Jesus, indicate what we really believe. If we follow God in these areas, then we can say we believe in God. But if we do not, then we must believe in something else—for our actions are a mirror of our hearts.

As shown above, what we do with our lives—our work, our response to stressful situations—that’s what really shows who we are. We can say that we love God, but the question is, how do we show it? Sometimes the best way to determine our character is to imagine that a stranger who has never seen us before is presented with a videotape of our whole lives, with the sound off, so they can’t hear our own explanations of our lives. How would that stranger evaluate us? What would characterize us? If we stole, we would certainly be characterized as a thief. But we more often than not excuse ourselves, not wanting our actions to determine who we are—“Sure, I get drunk occasionally, but that doesn’t make me an alcoholic.” “Yes, I have hit my child in anger, but that doesn’t make me a child abuser.” Yet Jesus said that a person shows truly whether they believe in him as to whether they do what he says (Luke 6:46-49)

Jesus says that what we do with our money and possessions indicates where our heart is, thus who we are (Luke 12:34). A person can say, “I believe that God will heal me,” but then why does he spend so much money on medicine? A person can say, “My comfort will be in heaven,” but then why does she surround herself with comforts on earth? If we want to see what a person really believes in, we can look at how they spend their money—that will indicate what they think to be most important in life. Jesus said that if we want to show that we believe we will get to heaven, then we need to take a substantial amount of our wealth and give it to the poor—not necessarily the church, unless they are serving the poor (Luke 12:33; Acts 4:34-35)

As we said above, a person can say one thing and do another. But Jesus said that we should pay attention to people’s careless words—the statements they make when they didn’t have time to plan it out. Often that’s when people’s pride and anger and selfishness flare up. If we are planning a statement, that can be one thing we say, but the statements we use when we are being thoughtless and carefree—those are the words by which we will be judged, for those are the words that show what we really believe and so who we really are.  (Matthew 12:35-36)

At times we all feel insecure. We are often struck by anxiety and we don’t know where to turn. Where we do turn in those moments of crisis indicates what we trust in or who we think will pull us out of our fear. Perhaps we will turn to a family member—especially if they are wealthy—or a friend. Perhaps we have a habit or addiction that we think will make us feel better. Perhaps we have nothing we can rely on but our anxiety, but we say, “How I wish I had this or that”. That is what we really rely on, the person or object we truly believe in. But Jesus tells us that in our time of crisis, the one we can always count on, the dependable one who we can trust in is God. (John 14:1; Luke 12:30-32). To “believe in” God doesn’t mean to have the correct doctrine, it means that you will count on him in a time of crisis. So whatever we turn to in crisis, that is our real god.

God makes it clear that he wants us to treat everyone according to their well-being. He wants us to do what is good for everyone we meet—whether that person is an evil person or a good one (Luke 6:27-36; Galatians 6:10). We can make a list of who we actually show care for and who we do not. “Yes, I try to help this person whenever I can. This person, though, is a dolt and so I avoid then when possible. I like to assist this kind of person, but this kind I detest and wouldn’t even give them the time of day.” By this test, then, we can often see what limits we place on our belief in God. We believe in God and in his ways when we are around certain people or situations, but in other ones we do not. If people respect us, that’s fine, we can believe in God in that situation. But if someone cusses us out, then we find it difficult to believe in God. For we know that we will be rewarded according to our love, not our doctrinal beliefs.

We often make promises and commitments, from appointments to projects we agreed to work on. Sometimes we do not even have a promise to do something, but we have a “social contract” with our family, in which our behavior is determined. And there are many things that we “believe in” that we commit to do, whether it be prayer or a favor for someone at church or visiting a sick person in the hospital. But what we believe in is not found in the promises we make, but in the promises we actually keep. We may “believe in” prayer and make a schedule for us to wake up a bit early to do it. But, when the time comes, we find that we actually believe in sleep more than prayer because the snooze button is hit until the prayer time has vanished. We may “believe in” visiting the sick, and so promise to do it, but when the time comes we find the television too alluring, showing that we believe in our comfort and rest more. Jesus said that we must fulfill our promises and so display our faithfulness, for what we do shows what we believe. This doesn’t mean that we are able to keep all our promises. Sometimes emergencies come up. But we must remember this, whatever we chose to do, that is what we really believe in. (Matthew 21:28-31)

One last thing to note—Jesus is a firm believer in changing one’s ways. We know he believes in change because he forgives people their sin. He displays his belief of changed behavior by accepting those who have repented. Even so, if you evaluate your true beliefs and determine that you haven’t really believed in Jesus, it is not too late to change! To change one's ways is the surest indication in what you really believe in.  You may have believed one thing before, but you really believe something new when you leap and make a difference in your own life.

Pray for God’s grace and you will begin to truly believe in Jesus, not just in words, but in your whole life. In that way you will be a new creation, created by God to do actions in light of Jesus!