Monday, September 29, 2008

God can't be put in a box

I used to believe that when faced with a problem or dealing with any situation that I could go to “God’s word,” pull out a promise and claim it as my own. I would tell God that I was putting him in remembrance of his word and that since he isn’t a man that he should lie, I expected him to keep his promise. The only problem is that he never made that promise to ME.

There are a lot of things that we’ve been taught over the years that I’ve since found out aren’t true. This is especially true of the traditions that have developed about the Bible.

The Bible has traditionally been called the word of God. I’ve now come to believe, that only the Old Testament can claim that title. In the Old Covenant, the people didn’t have the Holy Spirit living in them as we now do so the only way they could hear God was through his written word. Today, however, we have the Holy Spirit living in us who speaks to us and he is our teacher and guide. John 1 says that Jesus is the Word made flesh. Although the Bible is an aid in helping us to know Father better, I no longer believe we can call it the word of God. That title belongs only to Jesus.

In the past, when reading the Bible, I would be thrilled to read about the exciting things that God had done for his people and the promises he had given them. However, I failed to understand that although the Bible was written for me, it wasn’t written to me. While reading the Bible, I can learn how Father related to his people in the past and I can be encouraged by reading what they learned. However, I can no longer expect that I can automatically take their experiences word for word and action for action and expect God to do the same thing for me. This understanding means that I can no longer look at God as a safe God that I can put in my own personal box. I can no longer expect that because he did something for other people in another time and place that he’s now bound to do it for me.

I found that despite my constant confession of certain scriptures, he didn’t always do what I wanted him to do. I was always left wondering what was wrong. Maybe I hadn’t been diligent enough in confessing the promises. Maybe I hadn’t used the correct wording and had changed an “an” into a “the.” There was always an uncomfortable feeling that I hadn’t done enough.

Understanding that I can’t just take the promises given to someone else and apply them to my circumstances has been very freeing. It now requires me to actually develop my own relationship with God where I hear him speak to me in a way that is unique to me. This can seem scary but a number of years ago, I learned that even when I can’t trust myself to follow him, I can trust him to lead me. That has freed me from a lot of stress. I’ve learned that he actually wants this relationship more than I do and he’ll do whatever it takes to help me to get to know him.

Darin Hufford has posted an excellent blog on the subject of what a relationship with God looks like. If you’re struggling in this area, you might want to read what Darin has to say. If you’re interested, follow this link.

Monday, September 22, 2008

And Your Praise Goes On... - Chris Rice

A friend sent me this song and, after listening to it, I just had to post it here. I hope you'll be encouraged by this beautiful song of praise.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Will Follow Him - Sister Act

I was thinking about Jesus when I decided to find this song on You Tube. The words wonderfully describe the relationship we have with him.

I found this excerpt from Sister Act which I think is a lot of fun to watch.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Best Christian Blog of the Week

What a surprise to wake up this morning and discover that my latest blog post had been given The Best Christian Blog of the Week award. I believe this honor also goes to Arthur Miller for having written such a haunting story of fear and manipulation.

I appreciate the time and attention that Cyberanger takes to make his choice. I'm sure it's difficult given the excellent quality of the blogs listed on his sidebar.

Thank you, Cyberanger. I'm amazed and honored.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A study of spiritual abuse - "The Crucible"

I’m reading “The Crucible” for the first time. This play written by Arthur Miller in the early 1950’s is today considered a classic. Set in colonial Salem, Massachusetts, it describes the events that occurred which later became known as the Salem witch trials.

This was an era of insecurity. Fear of the unknown was rampant and, as a result, over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned as witches. Nineteen of these were convicted and hung as witches and, at least, five more died in prison. All of this was done in the name of purifying and protecting the church from satanic influences. Although this was extreme behavior, it had the same characteristics of all other forms of spiritual abuse with fear being a major tactic. Since those in spiritually abusive systems don’t understand the nature and grace of God, they are subject to delusions and superstition which results in fear.

During the witch hunts, fear was widespread. Being ignorant of God’s nature and not understanding the scriptures, there was excessive fear of the devil and the supernatural. The people didn’t understand that Jesus had already defeated the devil so that they no longer needed to fear him. They didn’t understand that Jesus’ victory was complete in every way.

As families increased, the need for land also increased. As a result, there was much fighting over land and lawsuits were common. When the trials began, greedy farmers used this opportunity to accuse other villagers so that they could take their property.

Internal jealousies is another characteristic of spiritually abusive groups. The members compete for favors and the system of rewards and punishment used by the leadership encourages competition.

Colonial Salem was a highly religious community organized as a theocracy. The church was involved in every aspect of life and could administer capital punishment in spiritual matters. The minister was considered equal to God and was not to be questioned in spiritual matters.

The minister of Salem was a man named Samuel Parrish. His sermons had a strong emphasis on hell and he used his pulpit to push his own agenda. As a result, he was disliked by the villagers and there was constant friction between him and them.

When his daughter became ill with an unknown illness, he grew anxious and began to seek out the cause. At first, he was opposed to the idea of witchcraft causing her illness but he soon wholeheartedly accepted this as the answer. Because of his insecurities, his desire to protect himself and his ministry became obsessive. Not wanting his reputation tarnished, he allowed the witch trials to continue and made no attempt to calm the people. As the trials continued, he did everything possible to prevent the truth from coming out. He and other leaders were more concerned about protecting their own interests than they were in seeing that justice was done or that the people were protected.

This is common with leaders of spiritually abusive groups. These groups are all led by insecure leaders. Protecting themselves is their primary concern and the people under their care become something to use and then discard when they are no longer useful. Instead of being an avenue for teaching and encouragement, sermons become a tool to push their agenda and to keep the people under tight control.

Behavior in Salem was tightly controlled. Dancing was forbidden so when the girls were discovered dancing in the woods, the witch hunts began as they sought to protect themselves. People were expected to be in church every Sunday and to be able to recite by heart The Ten Commandments. Those who failed in doing this were considered suspect.

In spiritually abusive groups, conformity is expected. The people are expected to follow without question the rules dictated by the leadership. Individuality and creativity are considered forms of rebellion and all free thinking is to be suppressed.

“The Crucible” is a powerful and haunting portrayal of the pain caused by spiritual abuse. Although the events that occurred in Salem are extreme, all forms of spiritual abuse are harmful and destructive. People are victimized and families are torn apart.

A lack of understanding of God’s nature causes people to allow themselves to be abused. That’s why I believe it’s critical for these hurting people to hear the message of grace and love. I’m excited about the increasing amount of resources available to assist and encourage those who have been victimized. Healing is possible so I want to encourage anyone who has been victimized to check out the resources listed in my sidebar and begin a journey to freedom.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Something to think about

"If you care what people think about you, you are owned by anyone willing to lie about you." - Wayne Jacobsen

"When you’re following Jesus, time and light are always on your side.” - Wayne Jacobsen

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The joy of being me

"Conformity" is defined as: 1) action in accord with prevailing social standards, attitudes, practices, etc. 2) compliance or acquiescence; obedience. (dictionary .com)

Religion, to survive, demands conformity. There are few or no choices. Individuality is discouraged and everyone is expected to think the same and to act the same.

It's considered a badge of honor to be there whenever the door is opened. When programs are instituted, everyone is expected to participate. The entire group is expected to be involved in the same Bible studies or discipleship groups. One of my previous posts attempted to describe the conformity that takes place during "corporate worship." In this atmosphere, the group is told what songs to sing, when to stand, when to sit and when to clap.

No allowance is made for the fact that people have different needs and are in different places in their journeys. Conformity to group expectations is considered to be more important than any differences in circumstances. With those pressure to conform as motivation, we develop what I think of as a cookie cutter religion.

By conforming to a group's expectations, our individual personalities are squelched. We become a different person to appease the group and we don't allow the real person to come out. As a result, our needs are never fully met nor do we ever fully develop as real people. This leads to insecurity, confusion and frustration and we lose the ability to hear God for ourselves and to make our own decisions. Instead of moving naturally, we need programs and leaders to tell us what to do and how to do it.

We've all been uniquely created with different personalities and different likes and dislikes. When the real person has been freed, there will be a flow to our actions. We'll respond in a way that is natural to us instead of trying to be someone we're not.

For years, I struggled to make myself into an intercessor but somehow, it just wasn't a good fit. I never could comfortably squeeze myself into that mold. It was only when I gave up trying to be who I wasn't that I experienced peace. Now, as I'm learning to move naturally the way I was created, Father is re-teaching me how to pray. Also, I'm finding that the need to fit in is lessening. I no longer feel as though I have to participate in activities that are not helpful just to please others.

I believe this conformity can promote immaturity in believers. In order to grow and mature, we need to allow Father to remove the masks so that we can be honest about who we are and what we really believe. We need to learn to be honest with ourselves, then with God and finally with others.

After all the years of trying to fit in, I found that I didn't even know who I was. The real me was hidden under so many layers of pretense that I didn't even know myself or what I wanted. Finding myself has been a process which I'm still trying to work through. Occasionally, there are setbacks and wrong turns but slowly I'm seeing the real me emerge and what's amazing is that I'm finding that the real me is a pretty neat person.

"We have been a generation of people who don't know who we are." - Darin Hufford

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I Will Be Here - September 10, 1966

September 10, 1966, is a very special date for me because on that day I married my wonderful husband, Charlie. Given the track record of marriages in this country, it's amazing that we've stayed together for 42 years. Of course, we've had our ups and downs, our times of stress and our times of joy. It's been wonderful at times and difficult at others but, through it all, we've continued the journey together.

Together, we produced two wonderful children who have gone on to give us a wonderful son-in-law and a wonderful daughter-in-law as well as five of the most beautiful grandchildren ever produced on the face of this earth.

What a great time it's been and I look forward to this coming year and others that follow to see what adventures we'll experience together.

Here we are 42 years ago.

Happy anniversary, Charlie! It's been a great 42 years which I wouldn't trade for anything. I love you!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Worthy is the Lamb - Miriam Webster

Well, after posting a blog about what is true worship, here I am posting what is called a "worship song." Lydia in her comments spoke about Hillsong, an Australian church that has a very well known worship team. As I was preparing my response, I remembered this song which is probably my favorite of theirs. I don't listen much to Christian music but this is definitely one that causes me to sense my Father's love and presence. I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A perfect fix

God isn’t interested in fixing you because he already has.

In the institution, discipleship focuses on correcting behavior. As a result, we are encouraged to attend discipleship groups or accountability groups where our behavior can be monitored. What we’re not told is that we’ve been given a new heart and a new nature. We no longer have a nature that’s prone to sin and prone to wander. Our new hearts are good, pure and holy because God has taken up permanent residence there. Instead of striving to change our outward behavior, our focus should now be on learning to live out of our new hearts. In his book "Recover Your Good Heart", Jim Robbins wrote the following:

“As Larry Crabbe pointed out in his groundbreaking book, Connecting, discipleship is about releasing a goodness now present within the believer because of Christ’s redemptive work in them.”

In Christ, everything we need for life and godliness is now in us. (2 Peter 1:3-4) We no longer need to pray for faith because we’ve already been given the measure of faith. We no longer need to pray for patience because patience is a fruit of the Spirit so we already have all the patience we need. We no longer need to pray for wisdom because, in Christ, we have all the wisdom we need. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

As we learn how to live out of our new hearts, these virtues will just flow out of us. As we come to know and trust Father’s love for us, we’ll have confidence (trust) that he’ll work everything for our good. As we grow in love, patience will be a natural by-product of that love. As we grow in understanding that we’re now one with Christ and that we have his mind, we’ll see that the answers to our questions and problems will just be there as we focus on our unity with him.

Learning how to live out of our new nature is a process and there will be times when it just doesn’t seem to be working well. However, as we continue to move forward trusting Father’s love for us, we’ll more and more see the life of God produced through us. No longer will we need others to keep us accountable because the life of God in us will cause us to live godly and holy lives.

"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Jesus - a lawbreaker

"Unlike Paul, and unlike us, Jesus was without sin. Yet from a legal perspective (unlike the "legally faultless" Paul) Jesus broke the law frequently. And what's more, he broke the law so that he would be without sin: he broke the law in the interest of love."

"Jesus does not side with the religious authorities but shocks and confronts the religious establishment as he defends the outcast, the rejected, the untouchable. He does not identify with a legal system, he identifies with the lamb, the victim. He is not by any means the model law-keeper, but instead models the perfect relationship with God - Father and Son. He models what it looks like to live by the Spirit of grace. He does not show us a lawgiver God who demands perfect obedience but instead reflects God's heart of compassion towards us, especially those marginalized and rejected by the System."

These quotes from Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor explained a lot to me. In the religious system, I've always heard it taught that Jesus kept the law perfectly. Yet, that never seemed right to me. He violated the Sabbath on many occasions., he touched lepers who were considered unclean by the law and he forgave a woman caught in the act of adultery instead of ordering her to be stoned as the law required. As I read the scriptures, I could see that Jesus acted contrary to the law on many occasions so I had difficulty reconciling that behavior with his perfect law keeping image.

Another area of confusion for me was the story Jesus told about how David, when he and his companions were hungry, entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread which it was unlawful for them to do since they weren't priests. (Mark 23-26) Jesus used David's example to validate his breaking of the Sabbath by allowing his disciples to pick grain and eat it in violation of the law. What surprised me is that God didn't seem concerned about this breaking of the law by either David or Jesus.

Yet, looking at another story involving David, we see that God reacted quite differently to the breaking of the law. In 2 Samuel 6:1-7, David puts the ark on a new cart pulled by oxen in order to bring it back to Jerusalem. While transporting it, the oxen stumbled and Uzziah put his hand on the ark to steady it. In this case, God grew angry and killed him.

As I looked at these Old Testament stories, I couldn't see why something as innocent as touching the ark resulted in such a violent reaction, yet David eating the consecrated bread was held up as an acceptable example. God's behavior in my opinion seemed inconsistent and erratic. I was confused because I couldn't figure out when it was okay to break the law and when it wasn't. I knew if I made the wrong decision, I was likely to be zapped like Uzziah was. That was definitely a scary thought.

However, seeing the cross through the eyes of grace brings all of this into perspective for me. Father is a God of relationship and people are important to him. The law was there for guidance but it was never meant to be more important than meeting the needs of people. Jesus finished the story about David by saying, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)

Father's not a harsh taskmaster who demands obedience no matter what the circumstances. Jesus came and revealed to us a God who's concerned about us and our needs and the cross is proof of that love.