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 ).]