Archive for November, 2012

Opposites Stretch You

#3 in the “Mysterious God” series


John Adams was a visionary.  He saw the future of America in ways that others had not even thought about.  He was articulate and forceful in his beliefs, he knew what needed to be done and went to great personal sacrifice to achieve it.  He lived for months or years at a time separated from his family, with little to no communication in the midst of a bloody struggle for independence, as he fought for the future of the nation he loved.  He was a father.  He was a leader.  He was a man of God who invested in his nation, his people, and his land.

Adolf Hitler was a visionary.  He saw the future of Germany in ways that others had not even thought about.  He was articulate and forceful in his beliefs, he knew what needed to be done and demanded great sacrifice to achieve it.  He demanded the sacrifice of lives in war, in concentration camps, in relentless racial and physiological cleansing, as he fought for the future of the nation he loved.  He was a despot.  A brutal dictator.  He was a demonized man who tormented his nation, his people, and his land.

How could the path of any two men veer so sharply apart?

My head was reeling that day as I left the Holocaust Museum.  It was my first time there, and as it is for most people, it proved to be a memorable visit.  The grief over the cruelty of mankind was sharpened by the memory of the two previous days I had spent basking in the history of an extraordinary man, John Adams.

I was on an east coast tour.  I started in Quincy, Massachusetts, the home town of John Adams.  After spending a few days there, I drove down to Washington, DC to visit one of my favorite spots in the nation.  While there, I felt prompted to visit the museum.  I knew I was in for a sobering experience.  I knew I would come out heavy and grieved.

As I slowly walked out of the museum and found a place to sit outside, my spirit was churning.  I realized it wasn’t the grief that was causing such tumult.  It was the size of the problem.

Our world is not a stranger to wicked men any more than it is to righteous men.  But this was the first I had experienced both so deeply in such a short period of time.  My chest felt like it was going to burst.

I was grasping to understand how our God could keep a universe running where such extremes could exist.  How does He do it?  How does He keep the fabric of humanity from shredding under the tension of such extremes?  How can two men, with a human spirit from the same God, and an immense potential for good, end up so diametrically opposed?  How can the same God love both of them?

Who is this God that can sustain a world where both the darkest evil and the purest light inhabit the lives of mankind?  Have you ever wondered how we continue to exist?

And why has He been so longsuffering with a race whose bipolar behavior is enough to send the world’s best psychiatrist to the monastery?

Who is our God?

This was a decidedly uncomfortable line of questioning.  Every question I asked left me feeling smaller, more vulnerable, more out of control in a world where forces far beyond my comprehension were at play.  I knew, even as my spirit churned, that I was looking for answers I wasn’t likely to find in this lifetime. But I had to keep asking them because every time I did, I could feel my spirit expand.  My willingness to glimpse at the frightening unsearchableness of God left me in a profound state of awe.

Opposites will stretch you.  They are often bigger than our capacity to comprehend them, and so leave us in a place of vulnerability and uncertainty.  Without even realizing it, we often choose one side or the other so that we don’t have to look at both.  Or we lessen the extremes so that the middle is not disrupted by the stark realities on either side.  We try to dispose of the tension by settling into a definable world.

Some of the greatest mysteries of God lie in our grappling with mixture, with the tensions of life, with things we haven’t a clue why they are they way they are.  This is the playing field where we can meet Him again and again, each time our spirit expanding through an awe experience.  We may not always get an answer.  Am I closer to understanding how God manages a world where John Adams and Adolf Hitler both existed?  No.  Not really.  But my spirit is bigger, more robust, more deeply connected with God for having dared to process those emotions, having dared to look at good and bad at the same time, and having embraced the vulnerability of being so completely out of my league.

What about you?  Are you willing to ask?  Are you willing to see His mysteries, even if they leave you gasping for breath?  How often do you let your spirit experience God in a world that is far from neat and orderly?

I urge you to let Him take you there.  Let Him stretch you, let Him show you Himself, and fill your entire being with awe of the God of a world where contradictions, opposites and things unexplainable all function beneath the power of His mighty hand.

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A Stagnant Spirit

#2 in the “Mysterious God” series

I love the imagery in John chapter 5.  There is a pool in Jerusalem by the sheep market.  The name of the pool is Bethesda.  On any normal day the water would be decently clean, used for bathing, and further upstream at the upper pool, for drinking.  But every so often something extraordinary would happen.  An angel would come and trouble the waters.  Stir them up, disturb the molecules, and send them away vibrating with so much life that the first person in the water would be healed.

Contrast this picture with that of an abandoned fish pond in your neighbor’s backyard.  There is still water in the pond, if you could call it that.  There is no movement, no current, no life; save the algae that grows thick on top.  The only reaction you have is to hold your nose and wonder how many thousands of mosquitoes are breeding at this very moment.

If you were given the choice between a pool visited by an angel and a stinky, moldy fish pond, which would you choose for your backyard?

Right.  No brainer.  Ok, then, what if one of these was the picture of your spirit?  Which would you choose?

Did you think the question just got easier?  Perhaps.  But the application got a whole lot harder.

Allowing our spirits to get stirred, disturbed, disrupted and overwhelmed with life is not as easy as it is desirable.  The stirring leaves us most vulnerable to a mysterious God, an unsearchable God, a God who is profoundly more good than He is safe.  We shy away from the unpredictable and the unknowable.  Anything that jolts us out of our perspective, re-arranges the molecules of our very being, sets us on our ear, and leaves our heads spinning has a tendency to remind us of just how little we are and how enormously BIG God is.

Troubled the waters.

Why does that stand out me?  It speaks to me about wonderment.  Awe.  Intrusions upon your life, bursts of heavenly color, simple beauties and intricately complex challenges.  He infuses the molecules of your spirit with the frequency of His glory.  Who is this God you serve?  If you can hardly comprehend what you just experienced, could you ever hope to understand everything about Him?  No.  Not ever.  But the life comes in the asking, in the wondering, in the willingness to ask and leave the questions unanswered.  This is your invitation for Him to come and stir the waters.

What keeps you from giving it?  Perhaps you are not even aware of the moment when you stopped inviting Him.  As a new Christian you may have been full of wonder and faith enough to move mountains.  You wanted God to whip your spirit into a froth.  You rejoiced over the perpetual state of wonderment, it was all part of the glorious encounter with your Savior.  But slowly over the years, or perhaps all in one painful lump, the permission to stir grew restricted, the angel visited less and less and the first signs of algae appeared.  You no longer wanted to be disturbed.  You were content with your worldview, not realizing that there is no neutral.  Not to grow means you will begin to shrink.  Perhaps it was out of a desire for comfort and safety, perhaps it was because of woundedness or a lack of legitimacy.

In the end, if we are afraid of the unanswerable, if we must be in control, if we must not be vulnerable, then we will continue to shrink in upon ourselves until the life waters of our spirit become stagnant.  It is like the abandoned fish pond that is never stirred, never refreshed, never troubled, and so becomes a putrid breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Troubled the waters.

We were made for awe.  We were made to embrace a mysterious God and day by day, minute by minute to experience and express the wonderment of His ways.  The enemy means to belittle and reduce, our God to expand and fulfill.  The pool at Bethesda stands for me as not only a window into the works of our Lord, but also as a representation of the life made to flow in and through our spirits.

Having said all that, we can assume the answer to the question of which pool you would like your spirit to be.

So, let’s ask a second question.

Which one of the two pools is your spirit?

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Why Must God Remain Mysterious?

#1 in the “Mysterious God” Series

I believe the primary reason is because He is.

You may say, “well, of course.  We all know God is unfathomable.”  It’s an easy concept with which to agree, but a much harder one to truly believe.  I think we are often quite blissfully unaware of the chasms that exist between our hearts and our heads.

I’d like you ponder the issue of safety.  It is a desire nearly as organic as our breathing.  We don’t realize how much we depend upon it until we lose it.  Then it suddenly thrusts itself upon us as one of our basest of human needs.  We want to feel secure, free from threat, able to relax, like a bird high upon a tree, out of sight of predators, who fluffs himself up and settles in for a nap.

Much of this sense of safety rides on our knowing what to expect, or of feeling that things are generally in order, in their place, behaving as they should.  A simple picture of this is your home.  Your home is one of the places where you most expect to find safety.  One does not generally open the door with caution, uncertain about who or what you will find inside.  You proceed into each room with an easy familiarity.  You assume your home is safe, not even thinking about an alternate reality, unless you have experienced it before.  Our innate protective bubble of safety only gets popped when life sticks a pin into it.  The person whose home has been vandalized will always know the unforeseen could happen again.

I believe that those who suffer from the extremes, whether it is paranoia or recklessness only exemplify how strong a force it is.  And those who have lived in a continual state of physical risk, such as an abused child or the persecuted church can understand more fully how traumatic it is to live without it.

Because the desire for safety is so nearly instinctual, we may not even realize how often we avoid the threat of losing it, even when it comes to our perspective of God.  The fact we must face is that a mysterious God is not a safe one.  He is profoundly different in character from the vandal or the persecutor, but the very presence of the mystery is a threat to our sense of safety.  To be vulnerable to change, to the unknown, to a God so incomprehensible is to invite possible peril.  It is by force of His love and nature within us that we rise above this reaction to embrace His absolute goodness.  Left alone, we may easily agree with the concept of the Mysterious, while quietly and even subconsciously dismissing any real emotional engagement with the idea.

But to embrace anything other than this idea is to make God something less than He is.  The plain fact is that He IS mysterious and unfathomable, both in gloriously predictable and unpredictable ways.  Whether our motivation for embracing a different view is fear or woundedness, when we fashion God into an image of our own making we create an idol.  Now, I am acutely aware of our finite minds – we will never in our lifetimes see an entirely accurate picture of God.  That is the very paradox of the thing!  Yet at every point which is in our power we must attempt to embrace the reality of His nature, so that we truly worship Him.

A secondary reason I believe that God must remain mysterious is because it reminds us that while we were made in the image of God, we are not gods ourselves.

I believe it is part of our design to know, to understand, to find the patterns of the universe, to explore the “why” of our existence.  Through this relentless curiosity we are expected to encounter the Creator, to worship at His feet, to be overcome with awe at His handiwork.  He is the ultimate answer behind the biggest Why proposed by the greatest scientist or philosopher.  However, sin introduced a virus into the system and the quest to know became corrupted.  The more questions we can answer, the more arrogant we become, the more power we crave, the more like gods we feel.  The seeds of Lucifer’s pride are in our souls.

It is crucial for us to continually remind ourselves of our true size and place in the universe.  Yes, we were set to rule over the rest of creation, but we are still part of the created.  We are a chip off the old block, but we are not the block itself.  Our corrupted design, unredeemed, recoils from the kind of vulnerability necessary to keep these facts plainly in our view.  If we can’t figure out God, we can’t control or predict Him and we are therefore subject to His whims.  The lie the serpent told Eve was that God was holding something back from them, and that fear still plagues us now.  It is again the transformational power of God that transports us to a place of trust in His goodness but it is a process we must intentionally embrace.  It does not happen on its own.

It is my goal in the following articles to make you think, to break you out of established patterns, to plant the seeds of growth and expansion in your spirit.  Most of all, I hope to instill in you a passion of unrelenting discovery and overwhelming encounters.  Every time we are moved to awe, we at least for that moment, have some real perspective of what it means to serve a Living God.  Much of what I share will be from my own growth experiences and journey, which are themselves still very much in process.

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Design and Decisions

For years I blamed it on the dream. Following that dream was why I crashed and burned, why I nearly had a nervous breakdown, why I made a ridiculous move and then had to come back home in pieces. I distinctly remember the long drive back to my hometown, every mile between me and the departed city adding one more inner vow to the towering heap.

That portion of my birthright got hopelessly tangled in a knot of pain, fear, and a Mercy style determination never to end up in that place again. It has taken much work and healing to begin to untie the knots and rescue the gem from the kinks and snarls.

There is a particular piece of this journey I would like to share because it may have value for those of you who have done the same thing I did.

I confused design with my decisions. When I moved away to the other city I planned on living cheaply, working part-time, living on a strict budget so that I could devote more hours to doing what I dreamed of doing. The budget was truly workable. I did my due diligence in terms of research and I could live on what I made and have free time for other things.

I had not been there long before I began to grow impatient with the restrictions of my lifestyle. I had to use the bus system because I had sold my car. I had to watch my expenditures like a hawk. I couldn’t just hop in the car and go somewhere. And I had too long ignored a dangerous undercurrent regarding my desire for approval and willingness to be persuaded by others.

I didn’t crash and burn because of the dream. I crashed because I lost focus of what I was trying to achieve, because I made bad decisions out of selfishness, because I let others persuade me to choose comfort over calling. The dream was wholly innocent, though it provided a brilliant scapegoat for an opportunistic enemy.

In these recent days, God has sharpened this picture tremendously. I had been making progress in healing, but this piece caused a monumental shift. Not only can I now completely separate my design from immaturity, but I have a profound new respect for the necessity of the things I was lacking at the time. My design and desire to pursue it were evidence of the fingerprints of God. But because of what I lacked in character and maturity I could not bring that potential into reality.

Dreams are not perfect. They have to grow, to mature, to develop, to be honed through revelation. But I wonder how often the enemy pushes us to turn against our design because it was the motivation in the midst of the mess. Do we throw the baby out with the bath water?

You might go back to some of the dreams that are buried in the graveyard or that lie tangled in the knots of pain and bitterness. Is there a gem of design in there? Is there a fingerprint of Almighty God, your Creator? If so, perhaps you could ask Him to help you separate out the design from the decisions. To show you where His design endures even to this very moment, in spite of the decisions surrounding its current state.

And if He has you, like me, on a pilgrimage of stringent growth, celebrate with me in His wisdom in knowing what we really need to accomplish the things He has made us to do. For while He may do some things without us, He does most things through us. We must have within us the strength and fortitude to make decisions that unpack that design, and turn His plan into reality.

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