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".