Category Archives: 02. Who Are You?

Who Are You? (Sunday) – Song of Songs 2:8-17

Who Are You?  – Song of Songs 2:8-17

How many believers claim the Song of Songs as their favorite book in the Bible? Not too many; Paul definitely outsells Solomon. Paul is loved mostly because he so masterfully unpacks the doctrine of justification. In Romans, Paul breaks the mystery down about as far as is humanly possible. Evangelicals continue to ply their cognitive powers to the doctrine as if more applied logic and reason might yield a more complete relationship with God. Then Solomon interrupts with an odd statement, “Excuse me …

Behold he is standing behind the wall, he is looking through the windows, he is peering through the lattice.”

I wonder, as we do our bible studies, if God is not peering through our latticework, saying …

Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come along. Let me see your form, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your form is lovely.

The intimacy of The Song of Songs is not secondary to the understanding of justification by faith. It is the point of it. There is no chasm between Solomon and Paul. Justification is not just a bridge back to intimacy. Reason and  passion are now conjoined in Christ. Emotions and thought are not enemies. In Christ, they are partners.

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:23-24

Solomon’s language of love is plausible because of Paul’s theological language. In the Spirit, they are working in tandem to say, “In Christ, there is no longer any distance between God and man. Abide in this reality. Come and learn to be alone with him, to be comfortable in his presence. Open the door to the One who desires you, who has been looking in upon you.”

Behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have already appeared in the land;  the time has come for the pruning of the vines and the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land. The fig tree has ripened its figs, and the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance. Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along!

The good news of the gospel is much greater than Jesus just saving us from Hell. Jesus has become the mediator between us and God, and more. The veil between the outer court and the inner sanctuary has been torn in two, giving us unhindered access to God. Jesus has restored spirit- to-Spirit intimacy between God and man. The outcome of Jesus work does not begin when we die and go to heaven. The reward of Christ’s suffering is our restored communion with God, now. Christ is our life.

This week, the Blue Book has asked “Who Are You?” Hopefully you can respond, “I am his.”

Father, deliver us from the winter of our religion and escort us into the springtime of relationship with you. Thank you we do not have to establish this pathway. Thank you that you yourself are the Way, that you have freely given yourself to us. Help us to discover not only the brilliance of Truth but the glory of his presence. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are You? (Saturday) – Luke 15:11-32

Who Are You? – Luke 15:11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal Son could have easily been called The Parable of The Elder Brother or The Parable of The Father’s Heart. The following account explains this comment …

As a prodigal, I too left home and squandered some of my father’s estate. I chose a place geographically removed from my family and disregarded every moral boundary. By God’s grace, this resulted in a loneliness and famine of spirit that led to my return. When I arrived at home, Father ran out to meet me; he embraced and kissed me. I wore the ring and the robe, enjoying a feast, the likes of which I had never seen. So how could such a blessed prodigal ever become an elder brother, estranged from his Father’s affection? The short answer is that, with his lies, Satan aspires …

                                             to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Matt 24:24

If he can find an entrance, the enemy will still crawl over the fence and get into the sheepfold. One of those entrances is where a believer does not have a revelation of who they are in Christ. We are vulnerable when we do not know who we are.

Granted, in Adam, we are rebels intent on ruling our own lives, but there is more to our story. In Adam, we are also orphans, nursing a cosmic-sized rejection complex and identity vacuum. Even prodigals can become tantalizing morsels for demons when they compensate for their insecurity with deeds of righteousness, which they have labeled as obedience and think of as the proof of their love for God. After all …

He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him. John 14:21

When the agents of darkness can maneuver a sheep into this corner of the pen, they don’t want to devour it. They want to keep it around to snack on; elder brothers are tasty. They are also strategic. Full of conviction and zeal, elder brothers will attract others. If they can recruit enough saints who are laboring to please God, for all the wrong reasons, they can reach a critical mass and redefine normal Christianity. Its not that difficult since insecure sheep compare themselves to each other and modify their behavior accordingly. Fortunately, Paul, a master in counter-spiritual warfare weighs in …

When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding2 Cor 10:12

A person whose identity is not secure will sell themselves cheap to whatever or whoever might ease the pain of their orphaned spirits. The church was the first community of people who told me I had worth and potential. What do you think this kind of hope is worth to an insecure soul? What was I willing to pay in order to belong? I tell you the truth – just about anything.

Even after my powerful prodigal-reunion, I still absolutely craved the approval of men. I wanted to hear someone (on earth with skin on) saying my name and telling me, “Well done.” Without my identity rooted and established in-Christ, I traded my religious labors for the kudos they could earn me. Even though elder brothers stay and do their chores, in their hearts, they can be miles from home.

Elder brother’s problems begin when they are very young. At the first sign of rejection (it might even begin in the womb), the soul cries out, “This must not be!” With its inborn survival response, the inner man scrambles for security. The personality is formed as the insecure heart finds those places which offer it the most safety from that threatening idea of worthlessness. Interestingly, the same wound produces both the extrovert and introvert, the manipulator and the manipulated. This process of survival is the birthplace of our many false selves. Even a Christian’s heart can become a wasteland if it is still asking “Who am I?”

The bondage of elder brothers is strong because they look great on the outside and they have supporting networks of people and programs, dependent on them, applauding and often paying for their labors. The light of the world is quite dim isn’t it, if it is being radiated for all the wrong reasons?

         If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness ! Matthew 6:23

 

This is my story. Father had to come to this elder brother and persuade him to join the celebration. Just like the one in our parable, I pushed back. Even though I knew I belonged in the gathering , there were powerful things in me that were repulsed by this idea.

Why are elder brothers angry and offended? They may be jockeying for inheritance or they may be working on their image, uncertain of their own worth independent of their completed chores. Who are we really? We may never know, until we can be still and know God in the absence of our production. Our worth to God is intrinsic not conditional.

I could easily relate to the elder brother’s pain as he paused from his chores and heard music and dancing. I could relate to his anger and unwillingness to go in. I could especially relate to the Father’s appeal to his son and this son’s protest …

 Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat.

Father had to speak to me about my attitude toward others, whose burden seemed light in comparison to mine. Why? Because I sat in bitter judgement over them. During this interview (which lasted a few years, in my story), Father exposed my heart’s “O”-list. Everyone who had ever Offended me by welching on their end of my performance-for-approval bargain was on this list. My heart had written off and condemned each of these people for their complicity in the unforgivable sin of alienating, ignoring, marginalizing or discounting who I was. In one form or another, every transgressor, real or imagined, had been written off and condemned. These people had not been forgiven from my heart. God himself, who seemed aloof and had permitted these unpleasant things (and others) to touch my life, was at the top of my list.

I had all the elder brother symptoms. I did my chores which were numerous. I was a teaching elder, worship leader and Sunday school teacher. In season or out, I did my chores. Oh yes, I saw Father approaching but I was in no mood to talk. I was angry and depressed and had no clue as to why. Today, in retrospect, my vision is clearer. Here is a sampler of some of my misshapen elder-brother logic …

“Oh well, what’s a little depression? I may not exactly be filled with the joy of the Lord, but my works are evidence of God’s presence in my life.” And my anger? “My anger is only natural, given my circumstances.” Bitterness and resentment? “These are mere attitudes which I can better manage with some recommitment.”  Moving on … Judgements against others?  “These Philistines and Cretans are deserving of whatever God dishes out to them. I wash my hands of them all.” About this time, having no clue who I was, I probably looked like a chocolate-coated Ding Dong or a Frosted Twinky to the powers of darkness.

The brothers in this parable shared more in common than they probably knew – a complete  misunderstanding of their father’s heart. Astonishingly, contrary to our vision of God, the Father’s affections are never cut off by debauchery, nor are they enhanced by performance. They were his boys. Their lives could not alter the fact that they were the beloved sons of an exceptional father.

Father, by all means, lead a host of prodigals out of sensual and indulgent sin. But also, by any means, rescue a host of elder brothers and lead them into the light of your love. Not only stock heaven’s shelves with these stories but publish them on earth for your name’s sake. Amen.

Note; You may blame or thank C.S. Lewis for the imagery of the demonic appetite for the human personality. This is borrowed from his book The Screwtape Letters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are You (Friday) – John 10:1-18

Who Are You – John 10:1-18

Theology, sociology, psychology and other “ogies” have added their two cents worth on life. While I respect many of their theories, they have not relieved us of suffering and oppression. Yet, mankind continues to look to these pseudo-saviors for answers. Wise men know our plagues are systemic; there is a common backstory, something deeper and foundational we must drill down into if we are to find root causes. However, academics, who have expelled God from their thinking, cannot drill deep enough. Followers of Christ can. A single verse of scripture has served me more than all the “-ogies” in thinking about the foundations of reality.

A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.  John 10:10 MSG

This is Jesus’ one sentence pronouncement on ultimate cause and effect. As a follower of the Shepherd, this verse has natural governance over the way I understand the bible and the mystery of life. In both the scriptures and living there are many things I cannot fully understand or explain.  John 10:10 does as much to explain the foundational reality of our mysterious backstory as any sentence I know of.

This story involves a very accomplished thief and a very good Shepherd. The Shepherd is also a King who is vying for our hearts, and through them, the dominion of this earth. When I see something that has been stolen or is being stolen; when I see something that is dead or is dying; when I see something that has been destroyed or is being destroyed, I immediately presume its the thief – the Shepherd’s enemy and ours, who has climbed over the fence somehow and has gotten into the sheepfold.

Where I see new things being birthed and growing, I assume the Shepherd is involved. I have adopted this basic premise as a cornerstone to my cosmology (i.e. – my understanding of the mystery). Stated even more simply: God is good. Satan is purely evil. This foundational truth is not only a key to wisdom and discernment, it is essential in hearing the Shepherd’s voice.

He calls His own sheep by name…and the sheep hear His voice…and He leads them out…I am the Good Shepherd…and I know my own, and my own know me. (verses 3 & 14)

I will have followed this Shepherd for 40 years, this Spring. He has never permitted the enemy to ravage me. But the wolf has dug his teeth into me on occasion. It required the help of a few of the Shepherd’s apprentices to help me identify the tracks of the beast which had somehow crawled over the fence and had bitten into my heart. The doorway (or gate) into my heart is through my eyes and through my mind. The enemy had been trafficking in the domain of my thoughts in subtle ways since I was a child. He had covered his tracks masterfully. So thorough was the dissemination of his lies in my belief system, it had effected who I believed myself to be.

After discovering this, we (his under-shepherds and I), identified those patterns of thought that were contributing to death in all it expressions. I broke my associations and agreements with those old familiar lies about God, myself and others. Since then, I am more apt to recognize the enemy’s tone of voice, with its condemnation and accusation. That is the voice of the stranger who I will not follow.

And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.

In 1976, I entered through the gate and was saved. Jesus served as a living bridge that I crossed over from the domain of darkness into the Kingdom of Light. Here, I have been given safety and pardon. I am a son of God with some bite marks but they only serve to remind me we are still at war. Now in my sixth decade, I reflect on the story God is writing on my life and I concur with John 10:10; He truly is a good Shepherd and is faithful to provide eternal life, an abundantly better one than I ever dreamed possible.

Father, may you teach us to recognize the enemy’s voice where it is entangled in the roots of our depressions, our sickness, our hopelessness, our fear and all other places where death and decay are stealing and eroding away the foundations of our life, robbing us of our
truest identities in Christ and the abundance that is intended to flow from our innermost beings in Christ. In Your precious and wonderful name. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Who Are You? (Thursday) – John 15:1-11

Who Are You? – John 15:1-11

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:1

A branch that is in-Christ that does not bear fruit? That puzzles me.  And branches that are taken away? That troubles me. Taken away where? Deep concern is my reaction to the answer in verse 6;

He is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them into the fire, and they are burned.

This verse reminds me that, in Christ, there is both kindness and severity. As I reflect on my earthly father who loved me, I recall this same duality, unbalanced however, toward severity. Dad may have wanted to be kind but my behavior made it nearly impossible, necessitating the more severe expression of his love for me.

Behold then the kindness and the severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you will also be cut off. (Rom 11:22)

I am having an epiphany of sorts as I write. It is that my Dad‘s love was more like God’s than I had thought. About God’s love we know …

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. John 15:10

My defiance to Dad’s authority, his instructions and desires estranged me from his love. He loved me but my penchant for trouble demanded severity. I deeply regret, that beyond  arguments, reproofs and silence, I recall no conversation between us. I take responsibility for this and I certainly don’t want history to repeat itself with my heavenly Father. We can avoid that outcome by abiding in him.

What does abiding look like? John 15:10 suggests that abiding might be as straightforward as the doing of obedience. I have tried this and the connection between abiding and obeying is not as direct as it first appeared. The Christian life, at the outset, equipped with fresh zeal, looked to me, as doable – “Yes. I have God’s will and my good intentions, that ought to do it.”

I read my bible, prayed, witnessed and fellowshipped. This seemed to work for a while but I was still haunted with the lack of intimacy this formula was producing. I believed I saw others with more of God than I had. I reasoned this “more of God” could be attained by doubling down on doing. My new regimen became; Read my bible and study it, pray and fast, witness and do it (preferably) in a foreign country, fellowship and … don’t you forget it!

I just knew my “more of God ” was just around the corner. Soon I would be that disciple, worthy of his sacrifice. I wish I could report that I saw my heart as the hamster-wheel of religious activity it was, but I did not. By the time I finally saw it, I was collapsing under the supposed light load Jesus had promised. Somehow, in my wounded heart, I had turned the obedience of discipleship into a religious treadmill that would never – could never stop. My borrowed yet working definition of religion is;

Religion is any system of thought or practice whereby the doing of it causes me to think that I have gained the favor of God.

Once upon a time, I would have heard that raised, severe, father-tone of voice, weighing in with correction. Out of fear I would motivate. Today, I hear …

Beloved, I am persuaded of better things concerning you.” (Heb 6:9)

Abiding is impossible if we are motivated by fear. Having the commandments, willing and failing to do them, then rallying out of vanity and guilt, makes for a branch that needs pruning. Having commands, cowering beneath the assumed displeasure of a a frustrated God, is a form of slavery. The New Testament reveals a promised land where we are given a new identity in Christ, enabling us to live, motivated by love. Being must precede doing or one will inevitably be enslaved by religion and its inferior motivations of fear, guilt and shame.

Abiding is not just obedience to bible commands. It is responding to the person of the Holy Spirit. Abiding, in it’s essence, is anti-religion. It rejects outright that any doing or obeying can in any way enhance the relationship we have with God in Christ. Abiding is simply resting in one’s new nature and identity in Christ. Abiding is not a doctrinal position that one can have strong convictions about. Abiding is a spirit-to-Spirit experience. Abiding cannot be attained through study. It can only be discovered through revelation and encounter.

Father, may we come to the place where we are exhausted with our works and disillusioned with religion. May we acknowledge the impossible nature of the Christian life and transfer our dependency to Jesus, who lives in us, and is the only hope of glory. May we discover the abiding which is accompanied by the asking and receiving of whatever we wish. Thank you that you have loved us just as the Father has loved you. Thank you for inviting us to abide in your love. Thank you that you spoke these words to us that our joy may be full. May we press on in your kindness rather than your severity, for your name’s sake. Amen.

 

 

 

Who Are You? (Wednesday) – Revelation 19:1-10

Who Are You? – Revelation 19:1-10

 I am God’s son.

I’m not quoting Jesus. I am speaking for myself. I, Rob Cummins, am God’s son. After having lived my first 23 years as a son of darkness, it has always been a joy to say this. Being adopted by the King of the Universe trumps every fairy tail. Condemned men are not only acquitted; they are made innocent! I pray that you too can make this claim with ease. If not, let’s talk.

After we have told others who we are, we can also be sensitive for that opportunity to give an account of our hope, as children of light. If our hope is attached to Jesus Christ, and him alone, our stories shine and bear repeating. If our hope is attached to nothing more than our lucky stars and good deeds, we should talk. Being born again, should be our topic. We were called to be lights to this world – high-wattage stories, developing in the public domain. He means to publish us.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck measure, but on the lamp stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Identifying ourselves publicly as Christ’s was not meant to be a one-off event occuring at our baptism. Our public profession of faith was intended to be the beginning of a life-long public identification with the invisible yet resurrected Son of God. It is the invisible part that makes the telling of our story a bit intimidating, isn’t it?

              Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words. Francis of Assisi

I could not agree more but I don’t think the good monk’s intention was to silence our voices. The apostle Peter seemed to understand it was a matter of both words and deeds.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the exellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; ….Beloved I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent ….so that….they may, on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2 :9-12 

Today’s passage speaks of the Marriage of the Lamb, that day of visitation where the sheep have already been separated from the goats. On this day, the sojourners will be evident, those strangers to this world, who were looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. There will also be those who are conspicuously absent, those who maintained their friendship with the world. We really do need to know who we are, and make ourselves known.

Every one therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. (Matt 10:33)

For whoever is ashamed of me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)

If this word makes you uncomfortable, be encouraged. Truth is just doing what Truth does. At certain places in our journey, becoming uncomfortable with our lives (or even shaken in them) is evidence of a new work of the Holy Spirit. The birthing of new things is painful for a season, yet worth it, eternally.

His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it – no matter what. Hebrews 4:12 MSG

Father, lay us bare in the light of your truth so that we may change our attire if necessary or fill our lamps in preparation for the celebration ahead. In Jesus Name. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are You (Tuesday) – Isaiah 62:1-12

Who Are You – Isaiah 62:1-12

How are we, believers in the 21st century, connected to the story of ancient Israel? Paul and Isaiah helps us …

And you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became a partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree.  Romans 11:17

There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the gentiles, in Him shall the gentiles hope. Rom 15:12 (Paul quoting Isaiah 11:10)

Isaiah and the other prophets speak of a day when Israel’s fortunes will be restored through a new covenant but there are events which must come first, such as; the Jews returning to Yahweh, provoked by jealousy of those grafted in, who, with their lives, prove the efficacy of this New Covenant. Apparently, they have not yet seen anything sufficient to provoke their interest. However, it remains; this new covenant is our connection to the ancient story. The New Testament teachers labor to equip the Bride of Christ to see herself as the light of the world – a material reflection of Yahweh himself, one so bright that Israel, and all nations, take note.

On your wall, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchman; All day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth. Isaiah 62:6-7

I have a friend who daily walks the ancient walls of Jerusalem, giving God no rest, reminding him to remember his promises. As God listens, I’m sure his heart is moved to consider, not only his local real estate and Israel’s current citizenry, but his Bride.

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the acts of the saints. And he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'” Revelation 19:7

I believe God’s zeal is to assemble his family. The prelude to this, then and now, is to transfer the light of his life to his people so that they may shine brightly. The scriptures may call this Zion, the Holy City, the Church or the Body of Christ, but it all boils down to the manifestation of God’s life, in Christ. In light of these assumptions, I take a Gentile’s interpretive liberty with the opening verse of our passage.

For Zion’s (the Bride’s) sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s (the Bride’s) sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, and her salvation like a torch that is burning. And the nations (particularly Israel) will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory.

More than anything, I aspire to attend the Marriage Supper of the Lamb but there are some sobering things said in regard to it. The lamps of those attending must be filled with oil. I am assuming this oil is the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit’s presence would provoke longing and anticipation. In Matt 25:1-13 (The Parable of the Ten Virgins) Father uses incentives and disincentives to motivate us. The bottom line is always …

            Be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. Matt 24:42

Father, teach us to number our days that we may present to you, hearts of wisdom. May your Bride hear her alarm going off, saying; “Awake sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”. May your life be manifest in our anticipation, our longing and our prayers. May we live to see the day when your people are no longer seen as forsaken. Let us witness that day when the nations say, “These are a holy people, redeemed of the Lord. His delight is obviously upon them.” Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are You? (Monday) – Matthew 3:13-17

Who Are You?  – Matthew 3:13-17

I had two baptisms. The first was as an infant in the First Presbyterian Church of Enid Oklahoma early in 1953. That one was not a dunking. It was a sprinkling. Judging by the results, a lengthy immersion may have been helpful. The second was a dunking that took place 23 years later in the Tulsa Edison High School swimming pool in the spring of 1976. I don’t know if it was the chlorine, but things were much different after that one. I am being silly of course. The difference with my second baptism is that I was given a new heart.

As I resurfaced in that pool I didn’t hear a voice from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” That happened a few months later after I had spent a night in revelry. (I checked the definition, and yes, it was “revelry”). I had been perfecting this lifestyle since I was 13. Based upon the emptiness I was feeling the next morning, I was certain I had lost my salvation.

Dog piling on my misery were those familiar voices; “Robby, you idiot. You could screw up an anvil with a rubber mallet. Look what you have done now. You’ve lost the best thing you ever had. How typical of you to ruin this, just like you ruin everything. You are a looser!” I had not heard these voices since surrendering my heart to Christ. This was the voice of death. It had been stalking me for years. I cried out to the Lord as I was driving back to Tulsa from Enid, “Lord, I cannot bear to live without you. Even though I deserve it, please, please, please do not abandon me. I will die without you.” I had never spoken more sincere words. God’s response to this prayer is why I am not a Baptist (or a Presbyterian). They unfriended me when I told them what happened next.

Why, I do not know, but I began to weep. My tears turned into a flood. A torrent of emotion poured out of me, the likes of which I had never experienced. I was scared. I was not only loosing my salvation, I was apparently loosing my mind. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. Even though it was terrifying at one level (God’s presence tends to do this), the next hour was the sweetest and most powerful 60 minutes of my life. I will not relate it all here, but suffice it to say, the Lord got it across that I too was his beloved son and he was well please with me.

In this encounter, he pledged to never leave nor forsake me. He also made it resoundingly clear that the name of Jesus is majestic in ways human language cannot begin to describe. My precious friends and family may ask, “So, Mr. Mystic, in what ways have you been more holy since this encounter?”  “And, Mr. Fear and Trembling, what wisdom did you came away with?” Well, as to holiness, I for sure vowed to never ever revel again but I have only been moderately successful with this. As to wisdom, make double-darn sure you have a very secure friendship before sharing a God encounter with a Baptist or a Presbyterian.

This living, real-time word put a hammer blow to the old voices but, I regret to say, it did not extinguish them. In a more subdued tone, I heard them for another 30 years. I was to learn that condemnation is every bit as potent in the context of religion as it is in revelry. Religious devotion and service were salves (and I poured it on!) … but the One who pledged to never leave nor forsake me, had freedom in mind. His process of liberation is what MwM celebrates.

 

Father, whatever it takes, permit us to discover our identities, in Christ. Help us to see what a generous, kind, strong and faithful Father you are. May our mouths be muzzled until our hearts are free.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are You? (Saturday) – Luke 15:11-32

Luke 15:11-32

I love books. The atmosphere in rooms that are filled with books, especially libraries, have always done something to me. (A footnote prayer: “Lord, if construction is underway on a residence for me in the next world, keep in mind that oil-finished library panelling is exceptionally attractive.”) Excuse me. I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

I am actually thinking, at the moment, of those many other things which Jesus did, which if they were all written down, each of them, one by one, (in detail), the world itself would not be big enough to house such a library. (Jn 21:25). Do you think at least some of these things might be the myriad works that He did in the hearts and lives of His children?

Our passage today, the Parable of the Prodigal Son (which could as easily be called The Parable of The Elder Brother or The Parable of The Father’s Heart), coupled with my own story, is what has provoked my thinking about books. We talked recently about the books of Life that will be opened on that great Day of the White Throne Judgement. I projected that we definitely want
some books on heaven’s shelves (or, at the very least a few chapters) so that when the recording angel is sent looking, he can find our stories, giving evidence of His Life in us and our compatibility with heaven. Using your imagination, what are the names of the chapters that have already been published in your book in heaven? What do you think the title should
be of the particular chapter that is currently being written?

I picture a section in this library where our stories are catalogued. There will be an area devoted to Prodigal Sons. It will no doubt cover square miles of space. There will be another area for Elder Brothers. I also envision an area given to house the stories of those Jesus rescued as both Prodigal Sons and Elder Brothers. If things are organized in this fashion, I might get to be in
three different sections.

As far as being a prodigal, I certainly left home and squandered my father’s estate. I was also in a far off country (at least a strange city – Tulsa), living loosely, experiencing loneliness and a famine of spirit that ultimately led to my return home. This was the essence of my story as a prodigal. After having the Father run out to meet me, embrace and kiss me; after receiving
a ring, a robe and a feast, it would be natural to ask how I could have ever become an elder brother and need rescued.

That would take a while. The short-battlefield report is that Satan’s strategies involve deceiving and misleading even the elect wherever that is possible (Matt 24:24). My story reveals a place where the enemy can and does easily crawl over the fence and get in the sheepfold. That place is where a believer, (even the well-fed, beloved ones, bedecked with rings and robes) has not had a revelation of belonging sufficient to solidify their identity in-Christ.

I believe all humans (beings in-Adam) leave Eden with a cosmic-sized rejection complex and identity vacuum. I believe our hearts in this condition provide juicy and tantalizing fair for demonic spirits whose mission it is to mislead. They don’t want to immediately damn and destroy all men. They want to keep them around to snack on. This way, they can nourish and entertain themselves as well as recruit to a growing flock of misled ones. Eventually, (they have likely reasoned); if the flock grows large enough – becoming a majority, the flock itself will help redefine what is called normal Christianity. Given the propensity of sheep to compare, the strategy and task of redefining normal is not rocket science for demons. A master in counter spiritual warfare; Paul taught;

When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.2 Cor 10:12

I believe all humans (with few exceptions) leave their earthly families with that cosmic rejection complex customized and amplified. This really sets us up to sell ourselves to whatever will ease the pain of our compounding rejection. For me, the church was the first group of people who told me that I had worth or potential. What do you think that might be worth to an insecure soul? What was my soul willing to pay to belong? I tell you the truth – just about anything.

Even though, as a returning prodigal, I had had a powerful encounter with the love of God and knew for certain (at some level) that I belonged to Him and was a son, I still absolutely craved the approval of men. I wanted to hear someone (on earth with skin on) saying my name and telling me, “Well done”. Without my identity really rooted and established in-Christ, I traded
my activity as a disciple (really good works) for the approval available to me from within the church. It would be fair to ask, “OK. But how would this make you and elder brother?

I don’t have exhaustive understanding of how elder brothers develop but I believe we elder brother and sister types may begin going astray (getting misled) when the heart somehow learns (very early in life) to find some solace for the soul-pain of rejection in-activity which can establish reputation (which is just a false identity) instead of a personality that is rooted and grounded in-Christ. For clarity’s sake here, I am not talking about working to to earn salvation. I’m talking about the (mostly unconscious) working the heart does to compensate where it is uncertain in who it is. The tragic thing (in this state) is that we can be doing all the right things (like the elder brother had) for all the wrong reasons.

Why do you think this might be tragic? Why do you think the elder brother stayed home, never neglecting any commands from his father? What were the possible motives of his heart?

He may have been jockeying for inheritance or (like myself) he may have just been working on an image, uncertain of his own worth to his father or others outside of a steady performance or production. Eventually the Father had to come and speak to me about my attitude toward others to whom the Christian life appeared easy (to whom I had compared myself and judged). Along with those judgements, He exposed my heart’s list of others who had welched on their end of the bargain I had set up long ago to trade performance for acceptance. All those who had not delivered approval to my standards had been written off and condemned in one form or another. At the very least, I can say (from experience) that elder brothers and sisters have lists of people that have not truly been forgiven from the heart. (Surprisingly, God Himself may be on our lists.)

I had all the elder brother symptoms. I was perceived as a leader (albeit a pretty stiff one). I got my chores done, carrying out my duties as an elder, worship leader, Sunday school teacher, preacher (or whatever the occasion required). I was depressed for reasons that neither I nor others could relate to and I was angry for reasons neither I nor others could understand. I was put out with others and prepared to help them get it together as a disciple because I had the form of following Jesus down pat.

“Oh well”, I reasoned, “in regards to my depression; I may not exactly be filled with the joy of the Lord, but at least I can fall back on my activity as evidence that God is in my life. And, in regards to my anger, it was justified because of the circumstances I found myself in. In regards to bitterness and resentment, what are those anyway but attitudes that can be better managed. And regarding the judgements against people, they were all deserving of whatever God would dish out to them as discipline to straighten them out. At least I don’t have to deal with them.” Hint; rationale of this toxic nature does not find its origins in heaven. Are you suffering with any of these symptoms? I have thought back about what a tasty religious morsel I was becoming for the opportunistic spirits that prey on those like myself, whose identities are not established.

The brothers in this parable probably did not recognize what they shared in common, which was a complete misunderstanding of their father’s heart toward them. Regardless of the directions their misled hearts took, their acceptance with Dad was never cut off by debauchery or enhanced by performance. They were his boys. Their lives could not alter their belonging to him. Oh how blessed is the man and woman who come to rest in the reality of their secure place in the Father’s heart.

Father, by all means, lead a host of prodigals out of sensual and indulgent sin. And also, by any or all means, rescue a host of elder brothers and sisters and lead them out of captivity into the light of your love. Populate the shelves in heaven with an unprecedented number of stories of those awakened from within the Church who have discovered their new identities in-Christ as well as their kingdom destinies. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Note; You may blame or thank C.S. Lewis for the imagery of demons and human personality which I borrowed from his book The Screwtape Letters

 

 

 

 

Who Are You (Friday) – John 10:1-18

John 10:1-18

Theology, sociology, psychology (and many other –ogies) have all weighed in and added their two cents worth on life. While I respect their academic efforts and their many theories, they have not really brought together a cohesive working understanding of human behavior and society that has relieved individual and mass suffering and oppression. Yet, man continues to look into these arenas for answers and saviors. Most wise men know that what we observe in individual behavior and society are symptoms of something systemic. In other words there is a backstory, something deeper and foundational that we must drill down into if we are to really discover cause. A single verse of scripture has served me more than all the “-ogies” in thinking about the foundations of reality.

The thief comes to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they may have life, and might have it abundantly. John 10:10 NASB

A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.  John 10:10 MSG

This is a one sentence pronouncement by Jesus’ on ultimate and intentional cause and effect. So, as a follower of the Shepherd, this verse naturally weighs heavily into the way I understand the whole of scripture and the whole of life. In both the bible and in life there are many things I cannot fully understand or explain. Truly, we are immersed in mystery. John 10:10 does as much to explain the foundational reality to our mysterious backstory as any sentence or thought I know of.

Its contribution for me is this; Behind the stories and scenes of our individual and corporate experience, there is a very accomplished thief and a very Good Shepherd vying for our hearts and through them, the dominion of this earth. So how does this sentence serve me? It is very
simple. When I see something that has been stolen or is being stolen, when I see something that is dead or is dying, when I see something that has been destroyed or is being destroyed, I immediately presume its the thief, the Shepherd’s enemy, who has climbed over the fence somehow and has gotten into the sheepfold.

On the other hand, If I see life, where new things are being birthed and are growing, I assume the Shepherd is involved. Since I didn’t take any courses on systematic theology I have adopted this basic premise as a cornerstone value in my systemic cosmology (or belief system). Stated even more simply: God is good. Satan is purely evil. This foundational orientation to reality is not only a key to wisdom and discernment, it is essential to how we will learn to hear the Shepherd’s voice.

He calls His own sheep by name…and the sheep hear His voice…and He leads them out…I am the Good Shepherd…and I know my own, and my own know me. (verses 3 & 14)

I have followed this Shepherd for more than 37 years. He has never permitted the enemy to ravage me. But the wolf has dug his teeth into me on occasion. I have told the story in many ways but it required the help of a few of the Shepherd’s apprentices to help me identify the tracks of the beast which had regularly been crawling over the fence and into my heart. The doorway (or gate) into my heart is through my eyes and through my mind. I learned that the enemy had been trafficking in the domain of my thoughts in subtle ways since I was a child. So thorough was the dissemination of his lies in my belief system, that it effected who I believed myself to be.

After discovering this, we (his under-shepherds and I), identified those patterns of thought that were contributing to death in all it expressions. I broke my associations and agreements with those old familiar ideas about God, myself and others and served them notice. The result is that today I am more apt to recognize the enemy’s condemning and accusing  voice and reject it as the voice of a stranger who I will not follow.

And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.

In 1976, I entered through the gate and was saved. Jesus served as a living bridge that I crossed over from the domain of the thief where I had been ripped off and lied to for 23 years into the Kingdom of God, where I have been given safety and pardon for my many years of agreement and obedience with the prince of this present evil age. I have some bite marks to be sure but they only serve to remind me that we are still at war. As I am now in my sixth decade and reflect on the story He is writing on my life I can concur with John 10:10 that He truly is a good Shepherd and is faithful to provide eternal life, an abundantly better life than I ever dreamed possible.

Father, may you teach us to recognize the enemy’s voice where it is entangled in the root system our depressions, our sickness, our hopelessness, our fear and all other places where death and decay are stealing and eroding away at the foundations of our life – robbing us of our
truest identities in Christ and the abundance that is intended to flow from our innermost beings in Him. In Your precious and wonderful and name. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are You? (Thursday) – John 15:1-11

John 15:1-11

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit.

I am puzzled quite honestly by a branch that is in-Christ that does not bear fruit. And…I am troubled that some branches are taken away. Taken away where? My puzzlement and troublement graduate to deep concern when I discover the answer to my question in verse 6;

he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them into the fire, and they are burned.

This verse reminds me that in-Him there is both kindness and severity. And as I reflect on my earthly father (who loved me too), I distinctly recall both of these traits in him as well. Unfortunately, I recall more severity than kindness. I think Dad wanted to be kind but my behavior made it nearly impossible, necessitating the more severe expression of his love for me.

Behold then the kindness and the severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you will also be cut off. (Rom 11:22)

I am having an epiphany of sorts as I write today. The revelation is that my Dad‘s love was more like God’s than I have credited him for. About God’s love we know;

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.

My disregard of my earthly father’s directions, instructions and desires estranged me from his love. It was not that his love did not exist for me; it was just that my penchant for trouble demanded his severe response. I deeply regret that, in my memory of my Dad, I do not recall much beyond arguments, reproofs and silence. How sad. I take responsibility for this. I do not want to repeat this mistake with my heavenly Father. This passage makes it clear that we can avoid that outcome by abiding in Him. What does it look like then to abide?

Our passage might suggest that abiding is as straightforward as the doing of obedience. I have tried this and it is my experience that the connection between abiding and obeying is not as direct as it might first appear . The Christian life at the outset, equipped with fresh zeal, looked, to me, very doable. (Oh my! What a naive boy I was.) Yes, I had my marching orders (or commandments to obey if you will). They were basically;

Read my bible. Pray. Witness. Fellowship (if you could find the time) This was excellent for a while but there was always the haunting sense that there must be more. I saw others with what appeared to be more of God than I had. I reasoned; more of God was attainable by doing more of what I was doing. So my new regimen of commandment-doer-obeyer became;

Read my bible and study it, Pray and fast, Witness and do it preferably in a foreign country, fellowship and don’t you forget it!

Ok. Maybe the Christian life was not quite as doable as I had first thought but, I reasoned: I will recommit myself; I will simply redouble my efforts, maybe then I will discover the more of God that is out there around the corner and then become a disciple worthy of His sacrifice for me. I wish I could report that I saw my life as the hamster-wheel of activity that it was and my heart as the bastion of religion it was but I didn’t. And by the time I did discover what was fueling my efforts to reach to the high places in God, I was near collapse under the supposedly light load that Jesus had promised. Somehow, in my wounded heart, I had turned the obedience of discipleship into a religious treadmill that would never, could never stop. Just yesterday, I was reminded of my friend, and mentor, Gene Griffin’s excellent definition of religion;

Religion is any system of thought or practice whereby the doing of it causes me to think that I have gained the favor of God.

In a previous life I would have taken the track from here of hammering home some warning of becoming dry, gathered and ultimately burned, attempting to generate sufficient fear to move you to obedience but another thought comes to mind instead; “Beloved, I am persuaded of better things concerning you.” (Heb 6:9) Our destiny, as His children, is to be motivated by more than fear.

The Old Testament world to me seems to have been primarily one of static laws and commands where the doer was motivated by fear of punishment. The NT, on the other hand, seems like a world (rather a kingdom) of dynamic living Truth and invitation where a new identity in Christ is inherited and people are motivated by love. In other words, being must precede doing or one will inevitably be enslaved by religion and its inferior motivations of fear, guilt and shame.

A possible discussion question might be; What would happen to church (as we know it) if suddenly, it was stripped of all religious motivation? (Hint: review GG’s definition of religion before answering.) I made the earlier statement that we can avoid the more severe expressions of God’s love simply by abiding. I needed to highlight what religion was in order to make it clear what abiding is not. Abiding is not just obedience to bible commands. It is responding to the Person of the Holy Spirit. Abiding, in it’s essence, is anti-religion. It rejects outright that any doing (or obeying) can in any way enhance the relationship we have in Christ. Abiding is simply resting in one’s new nature and identity in Christ. Abiding is not a doctrinal position that one can have strong convictions about. Abiding is a spirit to Spirit experience. Abiding cannot be attained through study. It can only be discovered through the personal experience of revelation and encounter.

Father, may we each come to the place where we are utterly exhausted with our good works – acknowledging the impossible nature of the Christian life and transferring our dependency to Christ in us, the only hope of glory. May we discover that kind of abiding in You that is accompanied by the asking and receiving of whatever we wish. Thank You that You have loved us just as the Father has loved You. Thank You for inviting us to abide in Your love. Thank You that You spoke these words to us that our joy may be full. May we continue on in Your kindness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.