17 December 2011

Christmas vs Winter Holiday: Grudge Match!

Is it Christmas? Or is it just a winter holiday? Let's delve into this.

First off, what's a holiday? Let's see what Messrs. Merriam & Webster have to say.

1 : holy day
2 : a day on which one is exempt from work; specifically : a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event
3 chiefly British : vacation —often used in the phrase on holiday —often used in plural
4 : a period of exemption or relief

To begin with, it's somewhat ironic that those objecting to the name "Christmas" as offensive because it "imposes religion" turn around and use a word that means (per M&W again) "a day set aside for special religious observance". Oops.

Clearly Christmas fits the first definition. Then there's the second definition (which Christmas fits into for most of us in North America and large parts of Europe, at least), which applies but has no religious connotation, per se.

It turns out that Christmas is a winter holiday; you can call it either one.

But Christmas is a specific winter holiday, meant to celebrate a specific event (Christ's birth). It has, of course, other meanings as well; the giving of gifts can mean all sorts of things, depending on what you believe and feel. The rampant consumerism, the insanity of shopping, the demand for more and more from Santa, the competitiveness of out-giving to the point of going into massive debt... these have nothing to do with Christ at all. They are simply what humans in an unfettered, western, capitalistic society have made of this day. Most of these (along with parties, decorating and the food) are fine if they are not taken to excess. They can be Christian or not, depending on who you are and why you do them. They can work for everyone.

I have something to say to both sides of this debate. The short answer is that it's (at best) very foolish to be having such arguments, especially to the point of acrimony, never mind going to court over it.

Christians: It is utterly irrelevant what anyone else calls it. The Jews don't celebrate Christmas; they celebrate Hanukkah. Are they or their faith or their relationship with God in any way lessened by the fact that you and I (and the Muslims and atheists and Buddhists and...) don't celebrate Hanukkah, that most non-Jews can't even pronounce it correctly? No! So why should we and our faith get our panties in a wad if someone else (gasp!) doesn't want to call it Christmas and celebrate the way we do? (Which celebrations, I note, are found nowhere in the Bible.)

Next, and this applies to far more than Christmas, why on earth should we expect non-Christians to get excited about Christian holidays? Unless and until they have a relationship with God, why would they care? That's like expecting a cat lover to get excited about a pit pull in their yard. (If you like both, great. Work with me.)

It's not offensive to me if someone calls it a winter holiday, Hanukkah, X-mas, or anything else. That's between them and God. I don't need to get offended for him.

Finally, dear Christians, let us remember the two great commandments. Everything we do needs to flow out of those. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Our celebration of Christmas should bless everyone around us, not alienate them. We can not (and must not try to) make them enjoy it.

For those who get offended by the word, "Christmas"... you need to ask yourself, "Why?" If you get offended because of someone else's belief, that's not their problem, it's yours. And so long as they aren't trying to force you into anything with it, if it bothers you that much, then it *is* a problem, and you need to find out why and work on it.

It's Christmas. It's a Christmas tree. They are what they are. Now, frankly, I don't care what *you* call them. If it's really a statement of faith for you to not call them by that name, that's fine. It honestly doesn't bother me in the least (though I find it a bit odd in those who claim no religion). But it shouldn't bother you if I call it Christmas and wish you a merry Christmas. Take it in the spirit it's given. I will. When you wish me a happy holiday, I don't go into a funk because you didn't call it Christmas. I go, "Thanks! You, too!" and I mean it.

I'm not going to shop or not shop somewhere based on whether they have signs that say "Christmas", "X-mas" or "holiday" in the window. I'm not going to live somewhere or not live somewhere because the courthouse does or doesn't have a nativity scene.

Celebrate what you want to. Or don't celebrate. But don't demand anyone else do the same. In either direction.

29 October 2011


I didn't intentionally pick a couple of evenings before Hall-o-ween to write this, but it's somewhat appropriate, given the way our culture has glorified fear for this season. 8^)

Last December. after a home group meeting, Pam shared something she was dealing with. I don't recall what it was, other than fear being involved. So I prayed love into her to obliterate the fear. She felt much better. And then, as so often happens, that still small voice spoke. "Now, Miles, what about your fears?"

I mentally scratched my head. "Lord, I don't have any fears. You took care of them."

"What about your phobias?"

Oh. Those. Two sets of memories went through my head in an instant, like Grand Prix cars screaming nose to nose for the finish line. But I knew them so well, it hardly mattered. Besides, I hated dwelling on those. I mean, think about the things that terrify me? With my vivid imagination? Riiiight...

Both of these took root when I was just a few years old, living in El Paso on the edge of the desert, although one of them was fostered a couple of hundred miles away...

I have no idea what I thought about arachnids before I was six or seven. I don't think I had any problems with them early on. But over the course of a few months I grew to realize they were far more to be feared than the witch who lived under my bed. I can't recall the order these occurred in, but the overall effect was far more soul-scarring than the sum of the incidents.

I remember Mom calling me onto the front porch to see a black widow spider in her (the spider's) web. She was so shiny, hanging upside down where we could see that cute orange hour glass on her belly.

I moved in close to see it better. Mom jerked me back, her voice louder, her pitch rising a few steps. "Be careful! One bite can kill you!"

Another beautiful, summer day, Mom was outside, watering (you do that a lot in El Paso if you want things to live). I heard her screaming my name. I ran outside. She was yelling, "Get a jar! Get a jar!" as she backed slowly across the yard. Pursuing her at a leisurely but menacing pace was the biggest, darkest, hairiest tarantula I had ever seen. Snake-like, it apparently had Mom mesmerized. For some reason she was spraying water behind it. Was she trying to make it chase her? "Get a jar, Miles!"

Finally I unfroze and ran into the house, terrified, almost crying, frantic to find a jar. I found some under the sink, but they were too small for that Lord of Hairy, Fanged Spiders. I eventually grabbed a two pound coffee can and lid and ran to Mom with it. Ever the bold defender of her family, she trapped the monster, asked me to turn off the water, and carried the thing into the house!

(It turned out she was simply trying to catch it so Dad could take it to the biology department at Texas Western College where he taught; they wanted tarantulas and scorpions for the students to study. But what I had thought I was seeing was burned into my psyche.)

A third day that year, I looked down the hallway where my baby sister, Kathleen, sat in her PJs on our black, vinyl floor. She'd been teething on one of Dad's chess pieces (a king or queen, if I recall correctly), which she had put down to reach for something far more shiny and interesting. It was several inches long, yellow and black, and wagging its tail over its back at her. Mom shoved me out of the way, screaming, ran down the hall and snatched Kathleen up just before she could pick it up. I don't remember what Mom did with it, but that was the day I learned what scorpions were. And why we avoid them. And arachnophobia wrapped its evil, many jointed legs further around me heart.

For years these three moments in time would rule portions of my life. I couldn't even make myself touch a page of a magazine with a photo of a spider or scorpion on it. Accidentally touching a cobweb could send me into a screaming fit. Yes, I think you could safely call this a phobia.

Fast forward to the age of eight or nine. Six O'Neals-- two adults and four children-- are on their way to Cloudcroft in the New Mexico mountains. The last hour or so is a long and winding road through the mountains, including a haunted tunnel where headlights mysteriously go out and ghosts honk the horn in the dark. Otherwise, it's always a wonderful trip. Despite growing up mostly in the infinite, west Texas desert, mountains only made me a little nervous. But sometimes you find yourself an unexpected guest of... the Twilight Zone.

If you haven't driven the road from El Paso to Cloudcroft (at least in the sixties; I suspect it's changed), picture this. It's a two lane road, with faded, double, solid, yellow lines the whole way. On each side of the road, there's a faded, white line with (at most) three or four inches of shoulder. On the going down side, that sliver of a shoulder is bordered by sheer cliff, angling upward at anything from eighty to nearly ninety degrees most places. On the going up side, the sorry excuse for a shoulder-- when it exists-- drops off at similar angles.

Today, as we go up, all four kids are pressed against the window, looking out across the valley and down into it. The days when most cars will have seat belts (nevermind mandatory seat belt laws) are far in the future.

Sharon and I suddenly notice, far below, the rusted, twisted remains of cars and trucks, scattered across the valley, apparently tumbled from this very road. Vines, trees and bushes are slowly hiding them from view. We discuss whether they are full of whitened bones and tattered clothes. As we at each other solemnly, an air horn screams bloody murder, followed closely by noise from Mom and Dad.

Coming down the mountain, a big rig hurtles around a blind curve, almost completely in our lane. There's literally nowhere we can go (and live). Looking straight ahead, all Sharon and I can see is a rusted, twisted, Ford station wagon far down a ravine, our bones bleaching slowly in what little sunlight can reach them, tattered clothes rotting away as vines curl around our fibulas and tibias.

Dad slows as much as he can and eases as far over onto the theoretical shoulder as possible. Screaming like a banshee, Death races straight at us. I'm pretty sure our right tires are half way (or more) off the broken pavement as the trucker somehow manhandles his rig, tires screeching, back mostly into his lane. As the truck rolls by I'm sure its tires graze our car. Then it's gone and silence reigns. We somehow stay on the road instead of tumbling through space, and I remember to breathe.

Sharon and I spent the remainder of the trip curled in fetal positions on the floor. Kathleen and Bill laugh and squeal and ask Dad to do it again. What little I remember of our time in Cloudcroft was fun, but Sharon and I spent the trip downhill on the floor as well. ("No, we're not scared. We just like it here on the floor. It's comfortable.")

From then on I was terrified of heights. Some day I will write of wondering why I let my friends goad me in to climbing trees, of my fear of rooftops and high dives, of terror at the Grand Canyon. I've written elsewhere of how Pike's Peak conquered me.

All these things, and more, raced through my mind in that instant.

I explained to Pam what God had said. She smiled and grabbed my hands. "OK! Let's pray!"

It was brief, probably under a minute. I definitely felt God's peace, that peace that defies our ability to understand it. Mind-boggling peace. I forgot, for the moment, the arachnids and heights. I thanked her, and soon drove home.

For some reason I took the toll road that night. Where it rejoins I35 in Round Rock there's a flyover at least 100 feet in the air. With my Miata's top down (yes, I did say this was in December!), I was looking serenely out over the lights at La Fronterra, wondering why I had never noticed how beautiful it was. Then it hit me. I was looking down instead of straight ahead, enjoying the view rather than wishing the walls were higher so I couldn't see over them.


The next day, returning from a lunchtime run at work, I noticed a spiderweb on a light pole. As I drew near, the spider moved back from the face of the web toward the pole and curled up. I stopped to look closer to see the beauty of this graceful animal. It hit me that my face was an inch from a spiderweb, wishing the spider were closer so I could see it better. Say what?

That was roughly ten months ago. Since them I have gotten close looks at several spiders, casually wiped spiderwebs off when I've run into them, leapt twice from a ten to twelve meter, rickety bridge into a river and wept with joy as I looking down Albanian mountain cliffs not that different from those in New Mexico that horrified me years ago.

But it gets even better. I realized a few months ago that another, more recent, lesser phobia-- one I didn't think to mention that night, so it was never specifically prayed for-- was also gone. For over a decade, I couldn't use the bathroom in someone's home without checking behind the shower curtain. (A friend's young daughters, playing hide and seek, had jumped out to yell, "Boo!" at her brother as he sat on their toilet; ever after, I had to check behind shower curtains!) But this was gone, too.

God says that perfect love chases out fear (Jn 4/18). That love took care of Pam's and my fears, and it can take care of yours-- no matter how large or small, whether rational or not. I speak that love over you now. If you'd like prayer and healing for specific fears, let me know-- or just grab someone who believes and get them to speak it over you, pray it into you. Or ask God yourself. You have the right, and it's his joy to take care of his kids' needs. It's Daddy God's love that does it, not getting the right person to pray. It's not, after all, magic. It's grace. It's love.

Go scare a fear today. Rub some love on it, Laugh at it. Watch it flee for its life. Freedom... It tastes so much better than chicken.

21 October 2011


There is power in desperation-- especially when combined with faith. What are you desperate for?

Who got healed in the Bible? Usually, someone whose desperation and/or faith drove them.
  • Naman was desperate enough to travel to a foreign country and consult a Jewish prophet. His pride nearly overcame his desperation-- which would have kept him from getting healed.
  • The widow of Zarephath was desperate; she thought she and her son were about to starve to death. But she acted in faith and was fed throughout the famine.
  • The woman who couldn't stop bleeding was desperate enough to break the rules, go into the crowd and touch Jesus' robe. Bing! We have another winner!
  • The blind man cried out from the roadside, risking the wrath of the crowd and even Jesus' disciples.
  • Some guys CUT A HOLE in someone else's roof to get their sick friend to Jesus.
  • People with dead or dying children and other relatives begged Jesus for help.
  • After the Romans hauled Jesus in, the disciples generally appear helpless, hopeless and even afraid to be seen in public near Jesus. After the resurrection and ascension, they moved from hopelessness to desperation and spent weeks praying in the upper room. Bing! More winners.
In each case, desperation fueled faith. Faith is an action, and their action, birthed in desperation, brought results. Most of us realize that real love is not a feeling, but action. Do you understand that faith is also action? Faith is a gift. But instead of just wishing for Christmas to arrive, remember that God is a Daddy who loves to give things to his kids. He wants you to have this gift. He's just waiting for you to open it, and to use it (action!), not put it on a shelf waiting for batteries or a manual or whatever.

The object of your faith matters as well. I can have faith in you. But you can fail me, forget something, or simply be incapable of doing what I want or need. If my car starts off the edge of a mountain road, I can cry out to you with as much faith as I want. It won't help.

Judas Iscariot was desperate. But he put his faith in a false idol, an image he'd built up of Jesus that wasn't Jesus, a construct in his mind, a Jesus of his own creation. He might as well have carved a statue and expected it to deliver Israel.

That's why you need a relationship with God, why you need to study the Scriptures-- to know who he is so you know who it is you are putting your faith in. If you have a warped view of God-- for instance if you see him like Zeus, sitting around with a collection of thunderbolts waiting to smite you-- your faith will reflect that. In that case desperation is more likely to drive you away from God than toward Him, and your faith and relationship will wither and die, or at best be so warped as to be useless.

Faith without desperation is complacent or self-serving. Desperation without faith leads to despair. But together they lead to where you want to be. And it smells like victory.

14 October 2011

To be or... ?

God is "I am that I am." He's "I am". So what are we, who are made in his image, to do? Just be who you are. Just be.

Instead, we spend all our time trying to be who we or others think we should be. We construct an image, a virtual statue, of that person and it becomes an idol. We try to be that idolized person rather than who we are, made in the image of the living God.

It gets even more absurd. God is always doing something new-- including in us. As we go forward in time, we change. We are not, and *should not be* the same person tomorrow we are today. We should have grown. But statues and idols don't change except to erode and crumble pathetically over time. Even if that statue happened to be a perfect representation of who we were to be at that point in time, each day we grow farther and farther from that point in time, that person. Yet we cling desperately to who we saw ourselves as then, lost in the past.

Since an idol is a lie to begin with, the past we're lost in isn't even a real past, but a monstrous, fairy tale fabrication. Eventually the idol consumes us. Instead of the awesome person God made us to be, all that's left is a hollow shell growing weaker by the day as time inexorably pulls us farther from our false god.

Yet there is hope. The true God is always right there, same as he ever was. Just being. Calling us to just be. Reach out and grab him. Just be along with him. Life. Freedom. Love. Peace. Joy. Chuys. Ahhhh....

18 September 2011

Peeling the Onion

The other day I found out that a brother (call him Fred), a fairly well known leader in his country, was found to have fallen pretty hard.

The news didn't surprise me very much. And that surprised me a great deal.

I also felt some unease beyond my grief for this man and everyone else involved, from his wife to his congregation. This unease was something personal, subtle, and elusive. I prayed and listened quietly, and eventually understood. I had Eustace's Syndrome.

I'd known something was wrong from the time I met Fred. I had no idea what, but he didn't match the the man I'd heard about. There was something not right, something I didn't like. I ignored this and wrote it off-- even though I knew better.

I grew up in a culture that was big on not judging. If you couldn't point out an obvious, major sin, you were being judgmental, which meant you were sinning. If you weren't comfortable around someone, it was just you, and you needed to repent. The topic of discernment seldom came up. Of course, I dealt with this long ago.

I also have a history laced with insecurity. This was reinforced by some people (not everyone!) in the church who, whenever I disagreed with anyone, would make it clear that I was wrong. I learned the hard way to just keep quiet. Even though I was frequently proven right, I developed a mindset that I was inferior in understanding who people were and what they were doing. Prophetic gifts were seen as real only so long as they produced positive, happy words. Of course, I dealt with this long ago.

I also have a very trusting nature. I've been told I'm too trusting. Combine this with insecurity, and if I trusted you at all, there's a part of me that would believe almost anything you said. Of course, I dealt with this long ago.

Or so I thought.

As Eustace found out with dragon skin, these things come in layers. Taking one off feels good, and it's definitely gone, but upon reflection you may find another layer of the same thing. And that's what I found-- fear of being judgmental, insecurity, and blind trust in others.

In this case the other people are trustworthy. But God gives us all different gifts, insights, wisdom and knowledge (to name a few) at different times-- and I have prophetic gifts. I believe he was letting me sense something. I should have pursued that, prayed over it, paid more attention.

Instead I let my insecurities kick in, and combined with that tendency to overly trust, I assumed the worst about myself (without even realizing I'd fallen back into that pattern), and wrote it off to personality differences or some vague failing on my part.

Somewhere inside, I knew better. I still did it.

I'm not beating myself up (I once would have). I don't blame myself. Had God wanted me to play Nathan to Fred's David, I'm sure he'd have made that clear. But at the same time, there is a reason I knew something was wrong, and I should have gone after that. It might have made a difference to someone. I hate not being fully me, doing all I'm capable of-- for my sake, for your sake, for God's sake, for everyone's sake. I want us all to reach our full potential!

What's next? I may have Eustace's Syndrome, but I won't fall prey to Eustace's Self Cure again. Rather than simply attacking that newly discovered layer, I'm taking Jesus up on his offer to remove them all. Will it hurt? It just might but if it does, it will be worth it. It's fine for a dragon to be a dragon, but I'm not a dragon so there's no point in wearing his skin.

I also pray Fred will let Jesus do the same thing for him. And that you will, too-- whatever dragon skin looks like in your life.

Finally, if this means I let any of you down, please forgive me.

You're awesome, and I love you, and so does Daddy God.

That includes you, Fred.

08 September 2011

Not So Doomsday Prophet

The world of Harry Potter has its unforgivable curses, and the world of the Church has its unforgivable sins. But whereas the former are clearly defined in Potter's world, the latter is sort of randomly guessed at or mandated in ours. Because the Bible doesn't seem clear on this, we have seldom been clear on it. Most of us fear (secretly or openly) that we might (or even have) committed this sin. Perhaps you feel I have committed it by reading the Potter books!

But before we really get into what this sin might be, let's back up to how we deal with sin in general. Apart from that mystery sin behind Door Number Three, which other sins are forgiven?

Actually, all of them.

"Say what? Blasphemy! Why, my sister Esmeralda once..."

Nope. Just ask Peter.

"OK. Yo, Pete! Which sins did Jesus die for?" (smirks, thinking of Esmeralda...)

"...Christ died for sins once for all..." (I Pet 3/18a, NIV)

"I think that means he died once for all of us."

Indeed. For every man Jack (or woman Jane). No restrictions. For Adam and Eve. For Abel. For Cain. For Jezebel. For Elisha. For David. For Goliath. For Hitler. For Bush. For Obama. For the Taliban. For you. For me. For Esmeralda...

But just as there is no limit on the whom, there is no limit on the what. "For sins." Not for "some sins". Not for "all sins but that one sin which someone's sister Esmeralda shall commit two millenia in the future". For "sins". For all sins.

Some of us say that, but somewhere deep down inside (and maybe right on the surface) we really think, "He died for all my sins up to the point I met him, but I'm not so sure about the ones since, or at least some of them." But I haven't personally met anyone, or run across evidence of anyone, who hasn't sinned at least once after they got into a relationship with God. "No, not one."

So we have to expand our definition of forgiven sins to include not only our sins BC, but our sins AD. And more than that, we have to include every sin we ever will commit, right up til the moment we die.

Now that's forgiveness. That's freedom. So many of us live in bondage to unforgiveness, even though we're already forgiven!

But it's even crazier than that. What about those who don't know God?

The good news (though from a broken perspective, some Christians hear it as bad news) is that if he died once for all, and forgave all sins, that includes every last sin of Jezebel, Goliath, Hitler and Esmeralda.

"But but but!!!!"

OK, all but one. The unforgivable sin. (Thought I'd forgotten that one, hadn't you?) So if God forgives all these sins, everyone goes to Heaven?

I wish there were a way that could work, but there's still that one sin, the one we started out talking about:

Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 12/30-31, "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven..." (NIV) What does the Holy Spirit do? He tells us who Jesus is. There's a clue in the first part, too-- this has something to do with how we deal with Jesus. (And lest we forget, The Father is the Son is the Spirit-- one God, remember?)

So if Jesus died to forgive our sins, the only thing that really makes sense here is this: if we die having rejected Jesus, then we have blasphemed (behaved irreverently) toward the Holy Spirit and the message the Spirit brings. So the only truly unforgivable sin is to die having rejected God. If you are reading this, you probably haven't died, so you probably haven't committed the unforgivable sin.

If Jesus is your Lord, your lover, your friend, your brother, you're golden. You don't have to worry. If he's not, you still don't have to worry... if you move into that relationship. Since you don't know from one instant to the next whether you'll be alive, waiting til later isn't your best option. If you aren't there, or aren't sure, now is the perfect time to fix that.

"But isn't that dangerous thinking?" Or, "Hey, wait! That means I can sin all I want!" Not quite. Paul addressed this in Romans 6: "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

Would sin love for us to dive back in? Sure. But that's your old, dead self calling. Why would you listen to a corpse? If you screw up, ask forgiveness and move on (this is what Jesus meant by having your feet washed vs taking a bath, which happens when you first move into a relationship with him). There are people who see this as a loophole in the law, thinking they can have their cake and eat it, too. I'll leave it up to God to sort them out, but such people appear to me to be far more concerned about rules than relationship. Jesus took care of the rules so we could have relationship. But if we're really in that relationship, really loved by and loving God, we want to please him, not abuse or mock him or... blaspheme him.

So, I don't care what you did before you met Jesus. I don't care what you did after you met Jesus. I don't care what you've done if you haven't met Jesus. You're forgiven. Accept it. Embrace it. Embrace him. Problem solved.

07 September 2011

Whose Voice?

Writers often try to emulate other writers, either their favorite authors or the current best selling authors. It almost never works very well. Why? Any author worth reading (and some not worth reading) has his own voice, her own style. Whether it's J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling. C.S. Lewis, Tom Clancy, Danielle Steel, Gilbert Morris, or William P. Young, they are popular because they write like themselves, not someone else.

This is true in life as well. We've all run across wannabes and posers, and it's kind of embarrassing, right? I mean, when we see some kid trying to be just like the most popular kid in school, or trying to look, act and talk like their favorite star, do we see them as the person they're copying, or as someone sad, who wants to be what they can never be, who doesn't know who they are?

God made each of us unique. When he made us, it was just like in Genesis, he said, "Yeah! Look at this! Cool!" He didn't say, "Aw, crap. Maybe I should throw this one away? Nah, I'll keep it for laughs." You have to get comfortable with that, or you really won't be content, much less happy. So start by learning who you are. Accept who you are. Then embrace who you are. God loves you; you need to learn to.

After you have embraced it just in terms of being yourself, think about it for all you do-- especially ministry.

It's bizarre to see someone copying some other preacher's, teacher's, or revivalist's mannerisms. I've seen this many times, and the results vary from absurd to hysterical to boring to tragic.

For years I hated the fact that I was weird, I didn't fit in. God didn't use me in any of the normal ways. So one day I finally couldn't take it any longer, and asked God why the heck I couldn't be normal. He said he made me weird on purpose. Whoa. First amazement, then... freedom! But there's more. It's not a passive weirdness but an active one. Not "It's OK to be you, Miles, weird as that seems sometimes" but "I made you who I did ON PURPOSE, and it's exciting, cool, groovy, whatever you want to call it, and being who you are is what will make a difference to the world and the people you love. If you will just be who I made you to be, you can reach people nobody else can." Yow!

Jesus kept doing things differently. Look at how he healed blind eyes-- he touched them, he spoke to them, he put spit and mud in them, etc. Why? I'm certain at least one major reason was to keep the focus on the power of God rather than the mechanism. If Jesus's miracles weren't clones of each other, why should his followers be? And yest so often, we want to find the magic formula so we can duplicate it and control it.

In the same vein, don't try to make another person a clone of you or anyone else. Don't insist they meet your expectations. God is far more interested in relationship than rules, and we should be, too. Just as we don't demand someone wear their hair the way we do or wear certain brands of clothes, don't judge someone based on whether they agree with you on issues such as dating versus courting, whether they have tattoos, speaking in tongues, or if and when the tribulation is coming.

"...work out your own (not anyone else's -ed) salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." (Phil 2/12b-13, NKJV)

[When I started attending church again after God got my attention back, well-meaning Christians decided to clean me up. Steve Taylor's song "I Want to be a Clone" off the album of the same name was my first revelation that I didn't have to go there ( http://www.sockheaven.net/discography/taylor/clone/02.html ).]

24 August 2011

None Good but the Father... And You

(Alternate title: "Jesus never said you suck.")

Why do we put ourselves down? Why do we think it's spiritual to put ourselves down? Why does the Church teach us to do this?

It seems to be based at least greatly on one passage (OK, three, but they're the same story related in three, different Gospels). A man, often known as the "rich, young ruler" prefaced a question to Jesus by addressing him as "Good teacher". (Jn 10/17)

Jesus prefaced his reply in Jn 10/18 with, "Why do you call me good? There is none good but the Father" (KJV) or "No one is good--except God alone" (NIV)

See? Easy! We all suck.

Well, that's one way to read this. But think about all the other things God the Father and God the Son said about us-- not just about the unfallen Adam and Eve. Not just about Mary. Not just about the disciples (the 12, the 70, the 120, the 500, etc.) You and me.

We are made in the image of God. (Gen. 1/26)

He has given us His glory! (Jn 17/26)

So how does that fit in with Jesus saying "You all suck."

(Waiting... waiting... waiting...)

Can't make it fit, can you?

I guess we could sorta, kinda say, "None of us is as good as God, so compared to him we suck." I suppose. But there really wasn't any reason for Jesus to interject anything like that at this point in the conversation. Plus, Jesus would be saying, "We all suck. You, me, everybody but the Father."

That just doesn't fit.

Just before this, the Pharisees had been testing Jesus, harassing him, trying to trip him up so they could bring charges against him. One of the charges they were perpetually trying to stick him with was blasphemy-- equating himself with God.

I believe this was simply a case of Jesus saying, "Hey! Do you realize what you just said? Yes, I am one with the Father!" That's it. Was he reminding the man addressing him? The Pharisees? The crowd? The disciples? My guess is all of the above. But it really doesn't matter. The point is that the commonly accepted explanation doesn't really fit, whereas this one ties in with Jesus' teachings, and indeed with other things his Father-- our Father, our Daddy-- has said all along.

If the Father is good, so is his only begotten son. If we are one with Jesus the way he and his father are one (Jn 17/21), if He lives in us (Jn 17/23), then we are good as well, purified by his blood and his presence in us.

Does this mean we are incapable of sinning? Sadly, no. But it means that our new nature, the new man or woman, is the polar opposite of the old, sinful nature. It's the new Adam, the new Eve (Rom 5, esp. 18-19). We can choose to be believe the lie that we are bad, and therefore have a propensity to sin, in which case we will almost certainly live a life of defeat (for which there is no Biblical case), or we can choose to believe the truth that we are good through Christ, with a propensity to become like God, in which case we will find it easier to move from glory to glory (II Cor 3/18).

I'll take the truth, every time.

20 August 2011

Biblical Zombies

Today's burning question(s):

"Are zombies real? Are they in the Bible? Help!"

Gather round, children, and Daddy Miles will tell you a zombie story with a happy ending, so you can all sleep like babies tonight. Happy, uneaten babies, unafraid of stupid zombies.

Of course zombies are real. The living dead? You bet. St. Paul talked about them in Rom 7, asking who would free him from "this body of death". If that's not a clear zombie reference, then you need more Ed Wood movies in your life.

So, if the old you is your own personal zombie, lumbering around trying to eat your moral brain, causing you to sin and become your old zombie self's other evil twin, what can you do about it?

Most of us us are taught to flee from it (dooming us to the life of a fugitive, grasping a a bite or two of food as we run frantically through the church on Sunday, never really making much difference except than as laughing stock for those who have no use for God or his people) or to resist. But resistance is for the enemy (the doo doo head, see previous blog on Satan). Zombie aren't even alive. Why do we fear them? What are their weapons?

A zombie mainly has two weapons-- fear and lies (the same as doo doo head). In both cases, their opposite is the only weapon you need, the equivalent of a head shot with a twelve guage, depleted uranium slug.

Truth destroys lies.

Love conquers fear.

As I noted in the "Satan is a weenie" blog, Love and Truth of these are part of the very essence of God. We are made in God's image, and if we accept Christ, we accept that image. We are remade into it. Further, we have his Holy Spirit. If we have the living God in us, who else need we fear?

Certainly not ourselves. Especially our old, dead selves. Let that body rot. Fill in the grave, put up a cross as a tombstone, and walk away.

Jesus came to set us free. Not to make us feel bad about ourselves. Not to make us hate ourselves, fear ourselves, or any of that garbage.

Go read John 17, or at least the last part. Wait, I'll read that part to you. Close your eyes and listen...

"My prayer is not for [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

"Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

(Jn 17/20-26, NIV, emphasis mine)

I had always focused on the results parts of this passage, unity and others getting saved. But all the results are predicated on something key that we typically miss, having been prejudiced by our (mis?)understanding of Paul's writings. We know the Holy Spirit is in us. But according to this prayer-- the last thing Jesus is recorded as praying before his betrayal and arrest-- we also find that:

+ we are one not only with each other, but we are one with Daddy God and Jesus;
+ Daddy God loves us the same as He loves Jesus;
+ we have the glory of the Father and Jesus in us;
+ his love, and indeed Jesus, lives in us!

We've been taught to fear the old man or woman, the one that died when we received Christ. But the reality is, the dead fear God and his family. So just be you, the you that God made, and let the zombies run away screaming like little girl zombies, whatever that sounds like.

14 August 2011

Who Measures the Rulers?

``It seems a difficult requirement. But then we are reminded that the responsibility is not due to the worthiness of the officials themselves, or even to the fairness or wisdom of their rules - it is for the Lord's sake that we submit ourselves. It would be so much easier if I actually respected the officials, but hey, it is what it is.'' --Cindy Howard

This immediately struck a chord, helping coalesce thoughts around the issue I've had for some time.

I find myself conflicted. Paul clearly defined what rulers are there for, and far too many of ours are either at odds with that or (in some cases) in outright rebellion. And yet I believe in honor. How do we honor the individual without bowing down to the idol? How do we honor the office when it's current use is so polluted?

There is no way to resolve that conflict once and for all, because each and every one of those people are different, individuals made in God's image as surely as you and I.

I have lived in that place of rebellion, that seat of self, so I know too well how easy it is to turn away from God. I just didn't happen to be in authority over hundreds or thousands (local offices) or millions (state offices) or hundreds of millions (national offices) of people.

I can but live moment by moment in grace, trusting God for what that looks like at the current instant in time.

Lord, help us all. Deliver us from self.

24 July 2011

The Devil- A Big, Bad...

I spent a great deal of my life at least nervous about, when not afraid of, the devil. Satan. The Accuser. The Evil One. Devourer of Souls. He was big and scary, probably the biggest, baddest, scariest guy around except God. Sometimes scarier than God.

My earliest, related memory is hearing Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" on the radio in El Paso when it first came out. We were in the family Ford station wagon (white, vinyl seats, no A/C, no seat belts), on our way to Church one Sunday morning. Being all of 7 years old, I had no idea what the song was about.

"I fell into a burning ring of fire! I went down, down, down and the flames went higher! And it burns, burns, burns, the Ring of Fire... The Ring of Fire" (Capitalization is how I heard it.)

That scared me. "Dad! Mom! We can't listen to this on Sunday on our way to Church! It's about going to Hell!" I'm not sure how Dad managed not to run off the road.

Over the years I grew in stature and (sometimes) wisdom. My interest in the devil and all things Hell waxed and waned with everything from my precarious spiritual balance (I flirted for a while with _The Satanic Bible_ in 1971) to comic books (Ghostrider debuted in 1972) to laughing at Satan to being really leery. Vampire movies probably didn't help.

When I was off in my hippie phase I tried not to think much about God or Satan. Except when I would have visions of Satan or Hell on acid. Then I'd cry out to God. Each time (I vividly recall two and believe there were a couple more) I was suddenly straight as could be, cool calm and unafraid. That should have been a clue on several levels. OK, it *was* a clue; I simply ignored it.)

When God finally really got hold of me, Satan didn't scare me at all. I mean, God had delivered me from every trap that stinker had set! But eventually some well-meaning fellow Christians convinced me that Satan was my worst enemy, maybe my worst nightmare. I wandered all over the map on that one, from fear to endless spiritual warfare to knowing the right formulas to follow. The latter didn't last long at all, since it was little different than sorcery (say the right incantation, perform the right rituals and the spirits must obey! It's the same thing, whether you're trying to get demons to obey or God. In fact, I believe the latter is worse.)

But eventually, between some awesome revivalists (I probably ought to write about that word some day for you), Bible study and basic revelation, I came back to where I'd been about 30 years before, when God turned my life right side up.

The army of Israel looked at Goliath, saw a fierce giant, and was terrified. David-- a shepherd, not a soldier-- looked at Goliath and saw some overgrown punk who liked to make a lot of noise and thought he was bigger and badder than anyone around, including the Living God. David got royally pissed off and kicked Goliath's butt. For good measure, he hacked off Goliath's head for good measure. With Goliath's own sword.[1]

Too much of the Church today looks at Satan the way Israel did. For unbelievers, he *is* big and scary (even if they don't realize it)[2]. For Christians? Jesus already kicked his butt for us. Every time we laugh at him, every time we turn our back on his boasting, every time we turn away from his noise back to Jesus, it just rubs salt in his wounds.

Poor baby.


Most times, that's how I deal with him, his temptations, his slander, his lies, his whatever. I laugh and ignore him.

"But he goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour!" OK, true enough, But he can't devour me. I belong to God. Jesus already won that battle. He can only devour me if I let him. In fact. I'd probably have to aid him, jump into his nasty ol mouth, unbrushed teeth, rotting sardine breath and all. No thanks!

Can he cause trouble? Sure, especially since people are willing to not only let him, but aid and abet him. But it's still up to me whether he wins or not. Hmmm. Which way should I go on that? As the commercial says, "That was easy."

Satan really only has two weapons against you-- lies and fear. In both cases, their opposite is both your defense and your offense, and those opposites always trump.

- Truth destroys lies.

- Love conquers fear.

Both of these are part of the very nature of God. We are made in God's image, and if we accept Christ, we accept that image, we are remade into it. Further, we have his Holy Spirit. If we have the living God in us, who else need we fear?

Earlier I mentioned some names for the devil. Nowadays I just think of him as "Ol' doo doo head". He's not worth my respect or time. You want to think of him as big and bad and scary, go right ahead. Give him all the honor and glory you want. Just remember, he doesn't reciprocate. He's a hungry lion, far more interested in who he can masticate.

Which isn't me.

Doo doo head.

[1] What an ignominious epitaph. "The fiercest giant in the land lost his head to his own sword in the hands of a child."
[2] Though I see God's grace protecting even unbelievers an awful lot.

08 July 2011

What Love Looks Like: Then and Now (My Journey)

I had the honor to speak at a class Sally and Becky Hanan recently held on spiritual gifts. The first class was on love and honor. Love is both the greatest gift of all, and the one without which all the others are pointless. (See I Corinthians 13.) These are the notes I typed as if they were an article. My speaking style is waaay less formal.

When God first really got hold of me, it was all about relationship. I was madly in love with God, and felt God's mad love for me. It was all about relationship, not rules, and love, not duty. I just loved on people, and they tended to respond. Some of them freaked out. Others saw something real and moved closer. But everyone reacted. I noticed that tended to happen with Jesus, too.

But over the next few years, people who'd been Christians longer than me showed me the error of my ways, and I grew up quite a bit in my faith. Or something.

The reality was that the more I "grew up" this way, the harder it got. For instance, they taught me all about the two great commandments:

Love the lord your God with everything in you, body, soul and spirit.
Love your neighbor as yourself.

These were things to aspire to, the things we MUST DO at all costs. Oh, and by the way, don't love yourself, that's just wrong (2 Tim 3 was quoted quite a bit, but looked at backward). And so, slowly but surely, I worked harder at loving God and people. I worried about whether I was loving. I listened to everyone I could and read every book I found on how to love, trying to understand what to do.

The result was that I was an OK husband, an OK dad, an OK friend, an OK youth pastor. I had moments of brilliance (usually when I wasn't thinking about rules or duty and just loving on someone) and moments of "ugh". The rules piled up. I piled rules on my kids. They didn't appreciate it as much as all the books and teachers said they would.

The Church piled rules on me. I didn't much care for it, either. For instance, as a youth pastor, there were more and more risk management rules. Never be alone with a youth, especially of the opposite sex. (That stipulation always got to me as the best known related arrest in Austin was a guy youth pastor accused of something while taking a teenage boy home). Never discuss anything with a youth without another adult present. Don't do this, don't do that, can't you read the signs? (Sorry. Early seventies song.) So now I was either ineffective, or I was rebellious and sinful. What? You gave that girl a daddy hug instead of a side hug? Are you lusting or just crazy?

I questioned my worth, my effectiveness, everything, I worked harder and felt more frustrated than anything else. I'm not saying I didn't love people during this time. I did, and there are people to this day who thank me for it. But my thinking on what love was had become warped, so I didn't focus on loving, but on doing all the stuff the church said I needed to do. It nearly killed me.

After a couple of decades of this, several things happened over the course of a few months.

I read The Shack. This blew a lot of religious fuses, and I started coming back to the ideas of "relationship, not rules" and "love, not duty"- only this time they were conscious choices.

A phenomenal man showed up in my life. Bill Vanderbush not only challenged my thinking, but he saw the gold in me that others didn't, and called it out. Beyond that, he accepted me as I was, not demanding- or even expecting- that I be anyone other than who I was.

At Burning Ones (a youth conference) I had an extreme encounter with God. I saw him more clearly than ever, I saw myself as he sees me, and I saw others as he sees them. I'm not going into details of that today, partly because of time, and partly because you don't need to focus on my experience. You need to ask God for whatever encounter you need. I'd simply asked him to let me see him clearly and others as he saw them.[1] I was missing that one step of seeing myself clearly.

Suddenly, the two commandments weren't burdens. They were joy, they were peace, they were life itself. They were about relationship not rules. It's not what I am supposed to do, it's what I was created to do, what he enables me to do. It became simply life.

The first one is actually easier. We love him because he first loved us. The second one we see as more problematic, not least because everyone else doesn't love us, but also because we don't really love ourselves. Until we see ourselves as he does, made in his image, we won't love ourselves, and we won't really love anyone else. But once we know our identity, accept it, learn to revel in it, see that we're the spitting image of our heavenly parent, it's a lot easier to love ourselves. At that point we're free to see others the same way, and loving them is easy, too... when we see through Daddy God's eyes.

So what does love look like?

I choose to see everyone as God does. I call out the things they don't see yet. I encourage them. I speak life into them. I hug them. I've been known to kiss folk. OK, not on the lips, so don't worry.

I refuse to be afraid. This means risk management goes out the window. If someone needs a hug, they get a hug. And all of us need hugs. If someone needs to talk, we talk. I walked away from a formal youth pastor position because God gave me a bigger vision, and it freed me up. I don't have to worry what armies of insurance lawyers think. If a 16 y/o wants to meet and talk over a burger, and their parents are OK with it, we just do it. I'm not talking about being stupid; I'm not going into a girl's bedroom to find privacy. I won't be meeting behind closed doors with someone who's been hitting on every male in sight.

At the same time, I trust God to show me if there's someone to be careful hugging. Some people will take it the wrong way, or have been hurt so badly it immediately makes them put up walls. But by keeping my relationship with God close, I hear him to deal with these cases when they come up.

It also means you're just there for people. This will look a little different for each of us. It means doing things that aren't "spiritual", like just hanging out, going to a movie, going tubing, etc. It may mean phone and text conversations when you're ready for bed, or maybe after you've been asleep a couple of hours. In my case, it also means a lot of meals with people[2]. It means driving to Waco or San Marcos to spend time with someone who's struggling, or to see their show, or just to maintain the relationship- to enjoy being with them. Because if you love people, you do enjoy being with them!

It means more time at hospitals. It means more weddings and funerals. It means more baptisms, plays, football games, and discussion about things you really don't care about otherwise. But think about the first time you fell in love with someone. They could have recited the phone book and you'd have loved every minute of it! That's Daddy God's love for his kids, Jesus' love for his bride, the Holy Spirit's love for God's living temples.

It means having talks a parent should have with someone about to get married- when their parents aren't available. It means praying for people on the street, in restaurants, and at work. It means way more time on facebook than I ever wanted to spend. It means taking risks. You cannot love without risk. God risked creating us with free will. God risked the rejection of Jesus' sacrifice. These are acts of profound love. Love is risky.

It means when someone is down, you don't just feel for them, or turn away; you encourage them, hug them, ask if you can pray.

What does it look like? Come hang out and I'll show you!

[1] When I first asked him this, he said if I saw others as he did, it would destroy me. But after I saw both God and myself clearly, he said, "Now ask me that question." So I did!

[2] My youth pastor mentor, Jeff Kyle, used to say that "Teenagers spell love two ways- "M O N E Y" and "T I M E". I add a third spelling to that list: "F O O D".

03 June 2011

Albania calling

As of noon, June 8, I'll be on my way to Albania. I have been to Europe for work several times; I squoze vacation in with that most times. I have never been much for "missions" (my mission being primarily teens and college age nearby) but Albania laid claim on my heart a year ago.

I always wanted to visit the Soviet Union. After it collapsed, I still figured I'd visit Russia some day. Maybe I will. Meanwhile, here comes Albania! I already missed the Kosovo side trip (Joel and Cheryl are there a month and a half, with the rest of us coming and going as we can). I had really hoped to get to Kosovo for reasons both spiritual (that area really needs some Daddy love!) and mundane (a vacuum tube company I dearly loved was based there but the fighting and fallout from the years of war finally seem to have done them in).

We'll get to see a lot of cool stuff, including the site of one of the earliest churches mentioned in the Bible. That's in Durres (Illyricum at the time). We'll do concerts in the parks. We'll do tent revivals. We'll meet with highly placed officials (serious favor in this group). We'll visit at least one orphanage and at least one prison. We'll work with 70 teenagers being sent by Nokia (yes, that Nokia). We'll work with gypsies. I'll get to visit a dear, young friend (Abi) who's a nanny in Durres (on the coast) just before she comes home to Austin for two weeks to marry (I'll still be in Albania). We'll hang out with one of the biggest celebrities in Albania. He's a Christian, and got them into a hardcore prison last time. Wherever he shows up, crowds gather, officials welcome him and whoever is with him. It's wild, by all accounts. Like traveling here would be with, say, Lady Gaga-- as a Christian.

The median age is about 29. They lost many people during the communist years and during the war with Serbia. The young people have almost no communist baggage, and the country in general has little or no religious baggage.

I took my best guess at how long I could go, absent readily available accrued PTO data (available only on-line, site was having problems). I guessed wrong and will be taking 3 or 4 days unpaid leave. I don't care. It's worth it. God has given me dreams and visions about Albania. It's the gateway to my future.

Sharon, meanwhile, had already promised to go to Brazil again with her twin sister's church group. It looked at first like she wouldn't be able to because the pregnancy center is short handed this summer, but it worked out. So three days after I leave for Albania, she leaves for a week in Brazil again. She gets back in the morning, sleeps all day, then goes to Abi's wedding. I could be a little jealous, but since I get to spend a day with her in Albania, I think I win!

Part of our vision is to do a Jesus Culture style event in Albania. We have a worship band we hope to take at some point. None of them have much money. If they get to go, it will clearly be God. I'm fully expecting that to happen within a year. But for now, we'll do smaller stuff.

Please pray. I'm in love with a country I haven't met, and I want to see her at the wedding as part of the Bride, pure, spotless and perfect.

I kept forgetting to blog about this, until Joya Nicole Judah reminded me. Thanks, sis. You rock!

10 May 2011

Where the Wild Hydrants Grow

``I've been walking in two worlds,
It's like a fight on a tight rope.
Tempted by the darkness
But drawn to this ray of hope.''
-Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, 1988

Wandering off the running trail near work, I found, not a lamp post where one ought not to be, but a fire hydrant where one ought not to be. I suspect it works, just as the lamp burned on the post despite a lack of electrical or gas hookup.

Why is there a hydrant in the woods, at least a hundred yards from the nearest road? I don't really know, but when I saw it, "I came all over Narnia". And I was reminded that I do, indeed, walk in two worlds; that despite the drought, I am not nearly so far from the Garden of Eden as I tend to think. That kingdom impinges upon this one; they desperately desire to be reunited.

And I am one agent of re-unification. I have a part to play. But whether I will or no, the kingdoms will be re-united. Some of us already walk in two worlds at the same time, and some day all will. The question is whether I will accept that, revel in it, rejoice with wild abandon, live there, invoke squatters rights and expand the influence of the merged kingdoms, or doom my part of it to pain and loneliness for longer.

Looking at it that way, the choice is easy...

It's just a fire hydrant.

In the woods.

Aslan's here...

30 April 2011

Tempted? You sinner!!! Um... Maybe not.

Temptation. How does it make you feel? I'm not talking about how chocolate makes your mouth water. I'm talking about real, full goose bozo temptation, whether it's to slam into the car of the rude driver who cut you off, to jump into the sack with the sexpot who keeps flirting with you, to lie to your boss to get something you want, or to stealthily pick up the money you saw someone drop.

A lot of people feel dirty, as if being tempted is a sin.

But... if that's the case, then Jesus did NOT live a sinless life! Yet we know that he did. Again, we confuse temptation and sin.

Paul wrote to the Hebrew church, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest ... Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet he did not sin." (Heb 4/14-15 NIV)

What does this mean? We know the tempter came to Jesus after 40 days of fasting in the desert. (In fact, Mt 4/1 says the Holy Spirit led him there to face the Devil! Why? Not so that he would suffer, per se, but so that he could lead the way in kicking temptation's butt!)

I think we pass this off too lightly. We see this simply as Satan trying to tempt Jesus. Especially because of the matter of fact way the story is told. But the verb implies that he was tempted.

Let's see, what did he face here?

40 days with no food. "Here. Have some bread. You can turn all these stones into more bread than you could eat in 40 days. Or 40 years." You know Satan had to be giving this all he had. Jesus probably saw the place turn into a bakery before his eyes, each rock a freshly baked, steaming loaf of bread. Do you know how good that smells? How good it would smell to a starving man?

"If you are who you say you are, you can easily prove it, and prove whether your Father really loves you or not at the same time." Are you really God, God's son, anyone at all? Does he really give a damn about you? Prove it. If you dare. Pride, insecurity, a whole rash of hot buttons for us humans.

By this point he had to have some idea of where he was headed (the cross) and what that meant (every sin of every person, past, present and future; separation from the Father and Holy Spirit; his enemies winning). And what does Satan offer? "You can avoid that whole trap. Easy way out. I already rule this kingdom. Bow to me instead of your Dad and all that crap he's leading you into, and I'll give it all to you-- free and clear, no pain, no cross, none of that yucky sin. You do know that stuff never comes off, right? And that the cross is going to hurt like Hell? Trust me on that one. I know Hell like the back of my hand."

Yeah. I'd say he was tempted. Hardcore tempted. Did he waver? No clue. The Bible doesn't say. We only know that he didn't give in.

The other time we hear about him being tempted was at the end. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed so hard he sweat drops of blood. I've struggled with things; I've prayed hard-- I have never sweat blood.

So, that's the list recorded-- food, pride, insecurity, fear, idolatry in the
guise of the easy way out.

But... according to Paul he was tempted in all things. Everything. Lust (perhaps when a half naked woman caught in adultery was brought to him); hatred (how did he manage to avoid hate while he was chasing thieves from the temple?); giving up (a million times on his last day before his death-- while being beaten and crowned and spat upon, while carrying that heavy, splintery doom up the hill; while being mocked as he tried to keep breathing as splinters dug into him; or even just when the disciples did something really, really dumb... again); stealing, lying, you name it. Many of these undoubtedly hit as he was growing up; we tend to think of him as a baby, as a twelve year old, and the last three years. But he lived thirty three full years, full of temptation, pain and loss (along with joy, love and peace, but that's another discussion). Complete with puberty, peer pressure, and other tough P words.

But he didn't sin.

Temptation is not sin. Never has been, never will be. Eve was tempted for quite some time. Satan really worked on her. The sin was when she gave in to temptation, not the temptation itself.

Why do we confuse the two? I suspect it's a combination of our fallen nature, lies of the enemy (remember Mt 4?), and a misunderstanding of Scripture. For instance, since lust is adultery and hatred is murder (Mt 5/21-30), we extrapolate too far and think that even the temptation is sinful. It's a fine line but a crucial one. I can be tempted to undress someone in my mind, but so long as I turn away from that train of thought, don't dwell on it, don't encourage it, don't run with it. don't leap on it and ravish it, I haven't sinned. Same with hatred. Same with coveting and stealing. Same with any temptation.

Now let's back up a bit; I think the verses just before Heb 4/14 add to our confusion. This is mainly because they get preached apart from it.

"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Heb 4/12-13 NIV)

This is "sinners in the hands of an angry God" stuff for most of us. "Oh, no! He knows everything! He's right there when I'm tempted! He saw that thought that flashed through my mind! And he has a sword! Help!"

If we look at this by itself, that's a reasonable response. Abject terror leading to meltdown leading to hopelessness and despair. That way lies madness and running from God. But if we read the two together, where this is immediately followed by the revelation that Jesus experienced all those temptations yet did not sin, where might we go?

Why, right into the next verse. "Let us then approach Gods throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Heb 4/16 NIV)

Mercy. Grace. Mmmmm. Those smell yummy. Taste delicious. Feel sooo good. Dad loved Jesus. He let him take the sin of the world. He brought him back from death. He offers us all power in heaven and in earth (Mt 28/18), the keys to his kingdom (Mt 16/19), his infinite love (the Gospels).

How, then, shall we deal with temptation? There have been many ways offered historically. We can flee from it. We can fight it. We can laugh at it and walk away. Lately I find myself doing the latter a lot, but I've had to do all three. The point isn't how you resist; it's that you resist.

Most Christians are reminded all too often in sermons and by well meaning friends that "sin is crouching at your door" (Gen 4/6-7). This often gets mixed with the verse about Satan being like a roaring lion wanting to devour us, so that many of us "know" the Scripture that says "Sin is like a lion crouching at your door, waiting to devour you." Lions are strong. Lions are scary. They're the king and queen of the jungle; they eat people.

So, if we are tempted, we assume we will likely sin, and... our doom is upon

But the reality is, even if we fail, even if we sin, something else is waiting for us besides a hungry lion. Grace. Grace sounds so meek, so sweet but helpless. How is an innocent little girl going to help us with lions? But Grace is far from being an innocent lass. Grace has all the power of God the Father, of Jesus the resurrected, of the Holy Spirit who resurrects, comforts and strengthens. The power of life. The power of purity. The power of holiness. The power of new beginnings. The power of the cross.

Deal with temptation as works best for you, but don't fear it. The only one with anything to fear is Satan. He fears you. That's why he spends so much time tempting you and trying to convince you that you're helpless and doomed. Otherwise, just like Jesus, you'll ultimately kick his butt. And he knows it.

Do you?

24 April 2011

Duck, Duck, Goose!

Near the end of Friday night's worship service at Cathedral of Praise, everyone ended up down front in two rows facing each other. This seems to be standard fare; it's happened the two nights I've been, and it just felt like the groove.

Standing at the end of these rows, I had a sudden desire to do an inside out fire tunnel-- to run down the middle, touching people on the head, blessing them, seeing what God had to say to them. Being a visitor, I didn't. But a minute or two later, something a lot more interesting happened, something I haven't seen before.

I saw Jesus running down the middle, tapping peoples' heads, going, "Duck! Duck! Goose!!!" But nobody else seemed to notice .Then he ran down to me (like lightning), tapped my head, said "Goose!", ran a couple of steps and stopped, grinning in that disarming way Han Solo always did. "Well?" His eyebrows went up.

What else was I going to do? I took off after him. We ran through the line, and all the way around the sanctuary. As I came back to where I started I tapped the lady next to me and said, Goose!" She grinned and said, "OK...?" I shrugged. "Jesus wants to play." She took off. I tapped a couple more, she tapped someone, at least 10 to 12 got involved before it morphed into something else.

I think Jesus the man, Jesus our oldest brother, Jesus the resurrected Prince of Peace, wants to have fun with us. I think Daddy God likes watching His kids play as much as He likes watching them change the world. Dads are like that. The best siblings are like that. The Holy Spirit must have had a good time, too, seeing how people were falling down laughing just after this.

Later today we'll celebrate Easter at one of the local churches we love. But it's hard to see how it will really feel any more like celebrating the resurrected Lord than Friday night did.

01 April 2011

The Nickel Song

I did a late workout today, biked (indoor exercycle, since I don't have a working bike at the moment) hard for ten miles then walked to calm down my jelly legs. On the walk, I knew it was time to look for pennies again. Or so I thought.

I rounded a corner and saw a small rabbit by the curb. I stopped, but he took off into the woods. As I approached the spot where he'd been I heard, "look here". So I started toward the curb; just as I got into the streetlight's circle of influence I saw something shiny. Not a penny. A nickel.

Several things immediately sprang to mind. First, I've leveled up. At first I wasn't sure why; I didn't take out a giant squid that shoots fireballs or anything. But there it is. I've been leveled up. I also realized there's a lot more favor flying around than I had noticed. But the answer is pretty obvious. He said I've been faithful in small things, so bigger things are coming.

Next, I realized I had my sights set too low. Looking for pennies when there were nickels coming my way. I'll take nickels, but I'll be looking for dimes, quarters and dollars (I'm not talking about money here; that's just Daddy's analogy).

Finally, even though I didn't see the bunny again, I realized even more how beautiful the evening was. It didn't hurt that my iPod transitioned right then from Kim Walker-Smith and Jesus Culture to It's a Beautiful Day's "White Bird". That song perfectly summed up parts of what have been blooming inside me the last couple of weeks (and longer, but especially now).

15 March 2011

What was the Point of That Stupid Tree?

Like most people who grew up with the story of Adam and Eve, I always assumed the whole point of having the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (often shortened foolishly to The Tree of Knowledge, but I'll just call it The Tree herein) was to test Adam and Eve, to see if they were worthy or something. They failed. Flunked the test. They thus deserved punishment, and doomed us all.

That never made a lot of sense to me. If God cared enough to create us, why would he set us up for failure? If God is a God of love, why was he out to punish us? If God is omniscient (if he really knows it all) why would he need to test us?

Over the years, I've gotten a number of unsatisfactory answers from both Christians ("you'll understand when you get to Heaven" or "God just wanted to test us"-- simply turning my question into a statement, a total non-answer) and from non-Christians ("See? I told you he was rotten" or "He was jealous, just like the snake said!") None of those jived with what I read of God in the Bible or with my experience.

Recently it's all started to make sense, especially as I realized how many of my assumptions and things I'd been taught about the Bible were wrong. It's a matter of viewpoint, of perspective-- if you look at it wrong, it looks like something other than what it is.

I think the plan all along was to teach us about Good and Evil. But we would have learned it directly from God, our Creator, our Lover. God would have taught it gradually, in ways that would have benefited us, as we grew in our understanding, knowledge, wisdom, and even power[1] and glory[2][3].

The test had several facets, but not, I believe, the ones we usually attribute it. It was a test for Adam and Eve, but in the sense that they were being given a chance to prove to themselves and all of creation they were worthy of God's favor, worthy to rule. It was a chance to prove themselves wiser than Satan. As we know, they failed.

It was a proof that God gave free will. Despite what Lucifer had done, God was still willing to create and love and trust.

Finally, I used to wonder how God expected Adam and Eve to pass up The Tree. But over time it hit me that the Garden of Eden wasn't a garden in the sense that a child in an El Paso, TX suburb on the edge of the desert thinks of a garden. It wasn't some small thing with just a few trees, or even a few hundred. Eden's garden undoubtedly made the most fabled man-made gardens, such as Versailles, Central Park, Mirabel, Babylon, or Kensington look like the small flower beds in our back yard in El Paso.

I don't know what The Tree looked like, but even if it was amazing, Eden had to be chock full of amazing. We live in a fallen world. As beautiful as things can be now, I have to believe that they pale compared to the plants in Eden. And there's nothing in the Bible to indicate The Tree was far more beautiful or enticing than any other tree or fruit. In fact, it sounds as if Eve didn't notice it that much until Lucifer worked on her a while. "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it." (Gen 3/8)

So, they had a single tree out of thousands, perhaps millions, with a fence (physical or metaphorical) around it. It wasn't a case of having to avoid something that dominated the landscape and their every waking minute. It was a case of having all of a huge thing with one tiny restriction, and refusing to accept even that one restriction. By that act of rebellion they gained what they thought they desired-- what God would surely have given them, anyway-- and lost everything.

Finally, for those still fuming over a loving God dooming us all because of one or two peoples' actions, don't forget that through Christ[4] everything is made new, and that our inheritance is restored.[5] To my great joy, I have come to find that inheritance includes God walking with me, talking with me, loving, teaching, growing, nurturing me as he did Adam and Eve. By rejecting the fruit of The Tree, by accepting the gift of grace, by being filled with his spirit, I have a deep relationship with God, growing every day in the knowledge of good and evil, and so much more.

[1] Jn 3/35, Mt 28/28-20, Mt 10/8, Acts 1/8
[2] Jn 17/22
[3] We are, after all, made in God's image. (Gen 1/26)
[4] Christ, the new Adam (I Cor 15)
[5] Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt 5/5)

11 March 2011

"Where did my box go?"

I was in a discussion recently with some friends. Someone started talking about thinking and acting outside the box. In the midst of the conversation, I clearly heard God say, "There is no box." (And yes, I immediately saw a boy with no hair holding a spoon doing impossible things.)

"Awesome!", I thought. And who wouldn't? No boxes, no holes to fit into. It's a freeing thought. But the reality is, we've spent our lives so boxed in that we don't understand what "there is no box" means, in the same way that someone freed from years in prison has no idea what freedom really means.

Once upon a time, when this world was new born, there were no boxes. Then, for reasons we don't fully get, God put a box around one, small tree. "Don't go there," he said to Adam and Eve. "Stay out of the box."

And for a while they did. There was practically no box for Adam and Eve. They had infinity minus one to play with. They could go anywhere, do anything, so long as they avoided that one, tiny place. But, just as when someone says, "don't think of the word 'elephant'" you keep thinking the word 'elephant', Satan got them focused on the box. So long as they didn't think about it, there really was no box as far as they were concerned. But once they focused on the box, it dominated their world. And after they climbed into the box, they couldn't get out.[1] Everyone after them was born in a box. Most of us live our entire lives in our boxes.

But Jesus came to set us free. My box was gone but I didn't realize that. I wouldn't have put it this way, but subconsciously I was treating it more like an upgraded box, a bigger nicer box in many ways, and a more confining box in others, but still... just a box. Even as I realized that the constraints were mostly man-made, not God's, all I saw was a bigger, nicer box.

When I finally there was no box, I had no real way to grasp it. Walking out of a box into infinity is kind of overwhelming. Subconsciously, some part of me was dancing like a little kid, yelling, "there is no box!" while another part was adopting the patient, grown up attitude of understanding that while there wasn't what you might call a box, there must be something box-ish, a fence, a boundary, something out there.

Knowing how foolish I can be, God has been making it plain that when he says there is no box, what he really means is... there is no box. There were so many things I assumed or understood or decided or had been told I wasn't qualified to do, was unable to do, or wouldn't get the chance to do, or whatever. One by one, God has been handing me on a silver platter opportunities that destroy those concepts. I'm doing more, and having more fun doing it, with God than I thought possible, never mind likely. It's not just that there are no limits on the things he'd already called me or gifted me to do, but that through Him, I really can do anything.


Have you got that concept yet? Anything. Everything. "All things are possible through Christ who strengthens me." Not all things within reach. Not all things to a certain extent. Not all things except these 12,933. Or even 12. All things.

Does that mean I'll get to do everything I can dream up? I have no idea. But I'm now quite confident I can do everything God can think of. Since he's infinite, and infinitely cool, that means he can dream up more than I can (and that's a lot), and even cooler stuff.

It's not a question of whether I'm worthy. It's not a question of whether I'm capable. It's not a question of whether I'm qualified. It's not a question of whether I'm called, or gifted, or passionate, or have enough faith. It's a question of whether or not there's a box. And since he said there isn't, I don't need an answer, because I can no longer find the question. (I'm not looking for it, either.)

If you've accepted the gift of grace, you also accepted freedom from your box. There's a whole, big world out there waiting to be loved on. Get out there with God and love on it. Love people out of their boxes.

[1] Some time soon I'll discuss what I believe God intended to happen with that tree. I think we misunderstand that as well.

17 February 2011

Duty is Doody

(Title shamelessly stolen from Tim Darnell via Pam "The Fence" Rose)

Most of my life, I've heard about duty. It's ingrained into most of us. It's everywhere. Ubiquitous. Inescapable. "Do it. It's your duty."

But duty, it turns out, is a poor substitute for something else. It's a tolerable emergency backup plan. The real motivator, the thing that makes a difference, isn't duty. It's love.

Duty says I don't leave the sinking ship unless everyone else is off. Love says I do everything in my power to get everyone else off before the ship sinks, and to safety.

Duty says you paid for a concert, I'll play songs reasonably well for two hours. Love says I'll pour my whole self into this, and by the time it's over we'll all go home exhausted, drenched in sweat and joy.

Duty says I will defend this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Love says I will do all in my power to make this country the best place possible to live.

Duty says I'll fix your car. Love says I'll make it like new, only a little faster, with better gas mileage, and I'll top off the fluids as a bonus.

Duty says I will raise my kids to make it on their own. Love says I will pour into them what I have to help them find their destiny and have the best life possible.

Duty says I'll teach what the curriculum says to teach, and maybe you'll learn something. Love says I will do all I can to make this interesting and practical, and make sure you know it and why it matters.

Duty says I'll stay married to my wife. Love says I'll make sure we enjoy our marriage to the fullest.

Duty says I'll enforce the letter of the law. Love says I care about what the law means, and will try to apply it fairly and with grace wherever possible, reserving the weight of the law only for when it's truly needed, but will use all of that weight when needed to protect someone.

Duty says, "I made you. I'm responsible for you. If you don't screw up you have a chance." Love says, "I'll come live with you, heal you, forgive you, die in your place, and-- if you want-- dwell inside you, perfect you, and we'll have an awesome time forever."

When you can't find the love, and something simply has to be done, by all means use duty to keep going, but find that love as soon as possible. The longer you depend on duty, the more of a habit it becomes, and the more like a machine you become. Machines don't seem to have a whole lot of fun.

"Love will get you through times of no duty better than duty will get you through times of no love!" -The Fabulous, Furry, Faith Brothers

14 February 2011

No Hormones, No Drugs, Just a Dream. Right?

I'm going to bare my soul a bit here. A part of me isn't sure that's a good idea in public, but here we go. Hopefully it will help someone. If you wants to get judgmental, that's between you and God, and you'ld find something to dislike about me, anyway. God didn't call me to normalcy. I'm finally comfortable with that.

God had spoken to me before, but it had generally been personal. Prophets were other people, not me (if they existed). The prophetic gifts (if they still existed) were for others, or if for me, would come many years later when I was no longer a young Christian. I kind of longed for them, but was usually just fine with that (if it ever happened) being off in the future.

Then I had... The Dream. (ominous music)

If you've ever had a God dream, you know it. It's not just the vividness. It's not just the impact it makes. It's not just that it's unshakable. It's not just that you know you have to do something with it. You just know. Or at least I do. Even that first one.

In the dream (which was extremely real as mine usually are) I was walking through the house one of our pastors and his wife shared with several women in the church. I was talking with one of these women-- let's call her Arwen (Not Her Real Name). She was wandering through the house and I was following her as we talked. She was stark naked. At the time this seemed perfectly normal (and trust me, in real life this would have been so abnormal as to make me think I was dreaming).

Arwen started into her room as the conversation ended. But just after she went in, she leaned back out of the doorway and said, "Miles, I need a man." Then she went back in, closed the door, and I woke up.

My first reaction was that this was some form of attack or flashback to my drug daze, and to promptly forget it, as actively as possible. That proved utterly impossible. Not because I was thinking about how Arwen looked, not because I thought I was the man, but because of all that stuff I said earlier about God dreams. Arwen could have been a woolly mammoth, and the dream would have impacted me the same way. (For the record, she was very pretty and only 3-4 years older than me. That wasn't an issue. That's another way to recognize a God dream, by how it affects you.)

The problem, however, was that I had an overwhelming conviction that I needed to tell Arwen about the dream. And that's where her nudity in the dream became a problem. We attended a holiness church, and we were serious about it. I knew we didn't burn people at the stake or stone people, but I was pretty sure we would revive the emotional equivalent. So I tried really, really hard to forget the dream, or at least deny the voice telling me to tell Arwen.

After a few weeks of not being able to do anything at church but hold onto the pew in front of me in white knuckled agony, I realized I had no choice. The following week as service was starting, I asked Arwen out into the hall. Making sure nobody else was around, I told her my dream. She listened attentively, without any apparent judgment. (My cheeks felt like they were bursting into flames!) When I finished she stood there quietly for a minute while I cringed.

"Thank you, Miles. I've been really struggling with wanting a boyfriend, and whether I should date someone, and I've been praying about it, and this is my answer. And don't be embarrassed about the clothes; that was because I've bared my soul to God. It's part of the confirmation." And with an angelic smile, she went into the service.

Within a few weeks she started dating Aragorn (Not His Real Name). Within a year they were married. I don't claim credit for that, but I do know that God chose to involve me in the process, and that it helped me at least as much as it helped them.

One thing I theoretically should have done differently was have someone else-- preferably a mature female with discernment-- there (not knowing how Arwen would react, or if she would need to talk with someone else). But there is no way on Earth I could have done that with anyone else present, unless maybe-- just maybe-- if Jesus had decided to take on the form of humanity again right there on the spot.

I didn't know Arwen real well, but I knew her enough to trust that if I were wrong, she'd let me know, and she would also keep it between us. That made it a safe environment, and if anyone ever needed a safe environment to test the prophetic waters, I did!

And you know what? While not everything God has given me to say since then (whether in a dream or not) has been easy, it's all been easy in comparison!

01 February 2011

Safe Haven

When Bill Johnson was at CotH recently, he spoke of God raising up "houses of hope for the hopeless" and of spiritual parenting. (As you know, the latter has long been near and dear to my heart.) I'm not sure exactly what Bill was envisioning when he spoke of houses of hope, but that is an excellent description of something else God has called me to.

We keep coming across refugees-- Christians struggling to hope, spiritually homeless, either burned out or hurt by churches (or feeling that way). These are folk who have been out of church for a while, people basically afraid to go back to church.

So several of us are starting the Refuge, a House of Hope. This will be a safe place, part spiritual homeless shelter, part halfway house, part short term church home. The goals are:

  1. to love people back to health in a restored relationship with Daddy God;
  2. to help people see themselves as God sees them;
  3. to help them forgive any who they feel hurt them;
  4. to help them get back into a long term church home.

God has already brought others with like visions to help with this, and provided a home to meet in. The timing is typical God-- while this has been on my heart for a couple of months, in mid-December I realized that as we visit bodies in the area we are not only forging or reviving relationships, but we are gaining understanding of the gifts, callings and personality of each body. This means that when people are ready to plug in, we don't just say, "OK, go find a home", but can provide starting points where they will feel comfortable.

If you're in need of a safe haven, feel free to contact me!

11 January 2011

No Clue

Most of us have no clue what we carry. No clue. And because of this, we waste our time with trivialities. We waste our energy on anger, on hurt, or drama, on self-pity, on things that really don't matter, on endless dreams we'll never achieve because we think that's all they are-- just dreams. We waste our love on corrupt political systems, on those who don't care, on trying to raise animals (or trees or rocks) to the status of humans or God.

All because we don't know God, we don't know ourselves, we don't know each other.

Lord, give us more than a clue. Open our eyes to you, to see you as you are, ourselves as you made us, and others the same way.