When Truth Meets Love

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“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’

And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”

Rev. 3:17, NLT

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If you would come to me and speak this boldly, I’d run you off.  “You have no right speaking to me in this way!”  Our personal relationships are essentially based on “boundaries.”  My continuing friendship with you is based to a large degree on your respecting these social rules and restrictions. We look to social protocol to guide us.

God is the only one we would allow to speak to us so boldly and directly (and even then it’s still unwelcome).

Self-sufficiency has become the specific goal of the speaker, it is how he measures a respectable Christian life.  Respectability however, is a disturbing development for simple believers.  “I don’t need a thing.”  Within our hearts there is a hunger to be independent.  Self-sufficiency and pride are disturbing thought processes for simple disciples.

There is a delusion that is quite prevalent– we may feel that we have arrived.  We finally are capable of something important.  We have done all the necessary things, we have jumped through all the hoops, and have “made it.”  It somehow feels like we have accelerated the sanctification process.  Much of this comes from a feeling of being ‘spiritually exceptional.’

Jesus is confrontive.  He will not diminish the truth, to spare our feelings.  I think that that is quite remarkable.  We esteem and value honesty, but when it is focused on us it seems difficult.

“You don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).

None of these five words would we use to describe ourselves. Let’s consider them anyway:

  1. wretched– terrible, very bad
  2. miserable– unhappy, depressed
  3. poor– lacking sufficient resources
  4. blind– sightless, without vision
  5. naked– bare, without covering

These five words that describe the “real” position of the believer in pride.  These five words dismantle us, stripping us of our lies.  We have evaluated ourselves and discovered that we must be exceptional believers. (Perhaps my innate specialness is true after all!)

Twenty years ago my wife and I took an evaluation for placement in a language school.  I assumed I was quite exceptional, but two hours later I was told that I failed the test and would be assigned to the lowest level for the rest of the semester.  I was shocked!  And my dear wife, was put into the highest. What a blow to my pride!

“We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ.”

Eph. 4:15

He reaches out to us because He loves us profoundly.  It is a love that is not based on any kind moral performance.  However, it is quite necessary for us to step into the piercing light, and an intense desire to enter reality.  It is difficult for us to slough off the lies, and to understand what is true.  Trust me, Jesus speaks nothing but the truth, and He loves us while He does it.

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Frozen

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The all-glorious Mr. Freeze

 Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

Colossians 3:13, ESV

Remember “Mr. Freeze?” (Not the rapper, but the supervillain.) He was a DC Comics ‘evil-bad guy.’ He wreaked terrible havoc using ice. It was his specialty, his weapon of choice. In the later issue comic books he wore a cryonic suit and used a “freeze gun” and his victims would be turned into an instant icicle.

But “freezing” people happens far too often. We don’t need a suit or a special gun. We do it with our words, attitudes, actions. It is called unforgiveness, or stigma, or just plain contempt. It locks another person in a place were they will stay forever, and you won’t ever have to deal with them.

We glaciate others with extraordinary ease. Someone offends me, or irritates me and I blast them. In my mind I solidify them into one spot, and there they are locked. Sealed away, and out of my thinking. (And I can avoid those pesky urges to humble myself.)

I have been frozen by others— and I have been the ‘freezer’ as well. The sad part is that we ourselves are so far from perfect. When we zap someone we will never, ever ‘receive’ from that person. We can even preclude them as outside of the grace of God. “You offend me, and I will never forget it, and you will never be more than an evil miscreant to me.” My rationale is “life is too short for hassling with jerks like you.” But I can’t fully accept that idea. That is not God’s will for me, and I know it.

We end up debasing ourselves by our own unforgiveness. We restrict others from the Holy Spirit’s transforming ability. In our mind’s eye, the wicked person will never be able to offer up anything of value. We freeze–locking them into a place. And a vast amount comes from an unforgiveness that is ‘fallen’, and an unbelief in God’s grace and power.

Mr-Freeze-1Perhaps all our personality conflicts are merely chances for us to learn how to love and receive special things from God. But we get confused with ‘our difficult people’ and situations. In our immaturity, we simply put them away where they cannot hurt us again. We may even encourage others to do the same.

Furthermore, any use of our ‘freeze gun’ freezes us as well. Unforgiveness turns on us (which we didn’t count on) and the effect is cumulative. We can only absorb so much and we get hard and cold.

One more thing. We do this to whole groups of people. The alcoholics, the mentally ill, other races. This can be called prejudice or stigma. Ask yourself this–have you ever been stigmatized or demonized?  You will usually know it. But we cannot afford to be controlled by our unforgiveness. There is far too much at stake.

“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him and let it drop (leave it, let it go), in order that your Father Who is in heaven may also forgive you your [own] failings and shortcomings and let them drop.”

Mark 11:25, AMP

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Allowing Yourself to Be Weak

Warning: This post might step on some toes!

Our society has pretty much embraced the American cultural icon of the cowboy.  We revere those who ride alone and hard. We are rugged individualists and hardened men making our own way.  Our society reflects this in subdued ways.  No matter what happens, we are fiercely free and independent.  We are ‘desperadoes’–we do whatever we think is best.

This is distinctive to the American sense of being.  We are instilled with a pride and a freedom as our birthright.  John Wayne, the ‘Alamo,’ and the biker with his Harley-Davidson on Route 66 have been our inspiration.  Each are distinctly heroic and carry our hopes and dreams.

But the Bible is not an American book.  A cowboy did not die for our sins (which are many).  The way of discipleship does not take us through Dallas, Texas.  Rather, His Words to us are bold and entirely challenging in an amazingly fresh and different direction.  We are told to wash feet, to repeatedly turn the other cheek, to surrender all our rights, and then take the lowest place there is in every situation.

Jesus is positioned as the Lord over us.  Humility is to become  the way we think and how we act.  We have become slaves to righteousness.  Our vaunted independence has been toppled. The crown has slipped. My wilfulness still wants to stand instead of kneeling. We discover this has been the truth all along.  We have never ever been in control.  He has been the King since before time, and will always be, for an eternity.

“Many Christians have what we might call a “cultural holiness”. They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of Christians around them. As the Christian culture around them is more or less holy, so these Christians are more or less holy. But God has not called us to be like those around us. He has called us to be like himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God”.

Jerry Bridges

I want to pose the following questions.  Are we honestly in a condition of being weak?  Can you serve with a basin and towel?  Is your heart that of a child? Do we see the world through the ‘lens’ of a soft and broken spirit?

Our churches often struggle often over issues of pride and stubbornness.  There is often little gentleness and brokenness to be seen.  We still see ourselves as independent, and we call our own shots.  I wonder if the lordship of Christ is even considered.  We may consider it noble to be a Christian, but our lives are not discipled.  (And they are not likely to be until God breaks us of our independence.)  It’s called, ‘the spirit of the age.’

“Holiness has never been the driving force of the majority. It is, however, mandatory for anyone who wants to enter the kingdom.”

Elisabeth Elliot

 

I write these things surveying my own life.  Self will and my hard heart fit ‘hand-and-glove’ with being that desperado.  I ride alone, making my own way, and I don’t make any disciples. I jettison my cross— my cross of discipleship.  I serve no one, unless it suits me.  Am I His disciple, or am I a man of my own?  Is He my lord, or have I decided to claim that right for myself? We must decide these things.

I only hope I have spoken the truth today. Forgive me if I offended.

“Lord, I am willing to receive what You give, to lack what You withhold, to relinquish what You take, to suffer what You inflict, to be what You require.”  Amen.

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The God-Players, [Death Wish]

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The Problem Is Myself,

  by Earl Jabay

 

About twenty-five years ago, in a small Midwestern city, a group of young boys were playing baseball. It was a team tryout. Every boy was doing his best to impress the coach. Robbie was a catcher. Younger than the two other boys who were trying out for that position, he was, however, a real beaver. Nothing was more important to him than getting on the team. There was no question about his talent. He was good. Any spectator could see that he was better than the other two catchers.

Late in the afternoon, the coach called Robbie over to him. Robbie studied the coach’s eyes for some hint of acceptance. It was not there, but then, maybe the coach was hiding his feelings. The coach began talking about how much ability Robbie had and that he really gave a lot to the game. And then it came. “Robbie, I hate to have to tell you this, but I can’t use you.” It was like being hit on the head with a baseball bat. “But . . . why?” Robbie fought to hold back his tears.

“Robbie—two things. You’re not a team member. You never joined us. You play your game when you are out there. You are a good catcher—but a loner as a team member. “The second thing is that you have a problem with me. You play my part, coaching the players and taking over. We can’t have a ball club on that basis.” “But Coach!—I was only trying my best!” Coach reflected. “There’s more to it than that, Robbie.” You were a good ballplayer, but your enlarged ego moved you right out of the ball club. “Forget it!” cried Robbie, as he stormed off the ball field. “I wouldn’t be caught dead on your crummy team!” Even as you stormed off the field, you felt like a king. You told them you were too good for them.

When I met Robbie, he was a man in his late thirties who had recently been admitted to a mental hospital. Rob was severely suicidal. “I’ve been struggling against taking my life ever since I was a young boy. Death has somehow always had a fascination for me.” He was seated comfortably in my study, and I just let him talk. “I remember that old Ford I had just before I graduated from high school. One night I took it out to the edge of town and ran a piece of tubing from the exhaust, through the window, and into the car. Then I started up the engine. Somehow, it gave me wild excitement to see how close I could come to taking my life. I chickened out, as you can see.” He laughed hollowly. “Another time, I tried to see how close I could come to the concrete abutment of an overpass. The car was doing about fifty-five when I hit it. Two days later, I woke up in a hospital with a broken back which still gives me trouble.” I thought of all the highway deaths and wondered how many of them were, in reality, suicides. “This thing with death really frightens me.” He paused and shook his head. “Well, it does and it doesn’t. Right now, I really don’t want to kill myself. But when I get excited or things go wrong, the first thing I do is think about some weird plan to kill myself. I have literally hundreds of ways all worked out in my mind. The idea has a hold on me.

Many times, it’s almost as if a dark, brooding presence comes over me and I have no power over it. I don’t believe in the devil, but it’s like an evil power—I find myself absolutely powerless to resist it. That’s what brought me here. This time, I slashed my wrists. One part of me tells me I wanted to do it—another says I didn’t.” Rob went on to tell me what he had tried to do about his problem. “I spent years trying to figure out what kind of a nut I was to have these weird ideas. I became such a nervous wreck that I went to a psychiatrist for some tranquilizers. Thought maybe that would help.” He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “The doctor gave me some pills and suggested psychotherapy. I had already read a lot about it, so I began treatment. At the time, I claimed that it was doing a lot of good and that I was finally getting some answers. I think I had to say that to justify paying him all that money! After two years, I ran out of money—and patience. I came to know a lot about my past, but that old problem of suicide was more of a threat than ever.

“Next thing I did was go to a minister. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not religious, but I heard that this minister was a counselor, so I went to him. True, he didn’t say much about God, but he sure had a lot to say about his church. His congregation was very busy and active with all kinds of study groups and community-action programs, all of which I was invited to join. When I finally got to tell him about my problems, all I recall him saying was that I should make a decision not to kill myself, and that I should use more willpower. Oh yes, he said I should also pray. I was hoping he would pray with me, because I felt I really needed prayer, but he never suggested it. I quit going to see him.”

I looked at Rob’s face. Fatigue was written all over it. And despair. I felt pity for this man who had tried so hard to figure out why he was losing his battle against death. I sensed that Rob had a little more to say. “The only conclusion I can come to is that my biggest problem is myself. I am my own worst enemy!—always have been. I’m a double person—maybe I’m schizoid, I don’t know. I do and then I don’t want to kill myself. I don’t understand myself. I don’t even like myself. Worst of all, I can’t even control myself! For God’s sake, Chaplain, tell me what’s wrong with me!” he cried, putting his face in his hands. “Does any of this make any sense at all?”

I knew it was time to level with Rob. “Okay,” I said, keeping my voice low, “I’ll give it to you straight: you are absolutely right when you say that you are your biggest problem. And the problem with you, Rob, is that you are a god-player. What I mean is this: you have tried to create your own little world with yourself placed squarely in the center of it. God has no place in your world because you have taken His place. Your whole life is a story of how you tried to set things up according to your will and plans. You wanted to be a king and build yourself a kingdom. The truth is that you are not a god, not even a king—you are a plain, ordinary human being who has never joined the human race.” Rob was listening now, not moving a muscle. I went on. “That early episode on the ball field, in a sense, tells it all. Even then you tried to take over. You tried to take that ball club—coach and all—and make them serve you in the Kingdom of Robbie. I paused, catching my breath, but Rob remained speechless.

“Now, about this problem of suicide,” I continued. “Suicide is the ultimate act of god-playing—even though you never consciously intended it to be that. Look, when anyone attempts suicide, what does he do? He insists of having the world his way, and if he cannot have it his way, he will kill himself. The king in us would rather die than accept the world as it is. He has such a deep love for his kingship and such a strong faith in himself to bring it about, that any failure or weakness in himself must be punished with death.” Rob nodded. He didn’t like what he was hearing, but he seemed to see it was the truth, and he wanted to hear more. “The Kingdom of Self, understand, is in our heads. We spend years building this fantasy kingdom unto our own glory. The king’s thinking becomes grandiose and his feelings ultimate. He believes all things can and must be done according to his will. And another thing; the king is never wrong. He is always right. Just ask him. He’ll tell you. So when the castle really starts to fall down around his ears and the king has lost all control of the world in his mind, he will fly out of control unto his own destruction. Then the forces of self-hate and self-pity move in and become so strong that the king is powerless to withstand them. He does, therefore, what he does not want to do—he attempts to kill himself because he can’t stand himself, defeated phony king that he is. It’s not that he particularly wants to die; it’s just that there doesn’t seem to be any alternative with his kingdom in such terrible shape.” I glanced at my watch and realized I had only a few minutes before my next appointment. “One more thing before you go: you are a god-playing king. So am I. Everyone is. You failed as a king. I, too. We are both failures—in fact, we even failed to fail successfully. But we are still alive, thank God, and there is much hope for both of us. If you want to, come back this afternoon, and we’ll talk some more.”

 

Earl Jabay was a Christian therapist in 1950’s.  He wrote a number of books, including “The Kingdom of Self” and “The God-Players.”

 

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Shedding Self-Importance

Bryan & Lynn, Still learning to be servants

“I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man.”  D.L. Moody


April, 2000

Shortly after Lynn and I were accepted by Kachemak Bay Christian Center to be their pastor, we traveled to California to be with family for a few weeks.  On our return to Alaska we drove from Anchorage to our home in Homer on the Kenai Peninsula.  I could hardly wait to jump in and be a real pastor. It was my dream, and God had “groomed” me for this moment!

As we drove into Homer I noticed the marquee on the movie theater.  It read, “Congrats to Bryan and Abi”.  I immediately stopped the car to gawk in amazement.  I was flabbergasted.  I suddenly felt a warm flush of self importance.  Homer was recognizing me as a pastor, as well as ABI, the Bible school in town that I had been teaching at, also in Homer.

I was delighted and duly impressed with how enlightened my town had become in recognizing me since my trip ‘outside.’.  I actually drove around the block to take in this wonder and took another look.  I was completely taken in by this marquee.  My pride took over and I felt invincible.  Words would pour off my lips and my little town would be guided by my spiritual brilliance.  I felt a warm surge of “heavenly” authority.

About two weeks later I picked up the local newspaper.  As I paged through I came across an announcement for a wedding for someone named Bryan and Abby.  I suddenly pieced it together.  Abby had been an employee at that movie theater before she got married!  The management had put this message on their behalf.

Immediately the Lord jolted me back into reality.  My arrogance and pride drained from me.  I felt like a pompous ass.  I had so inflated myself, thinking I was so impressive and important that the crash devastated me.  I was not as awesome as I thought I was.  I was embarrassed by how easily I was led into this spiritual trap of self-importance.

The Bible has a great deal to say about pride and arrogance.  “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.”   I would like to say that I have overcome this arrogance, but I catch it growing in the corners.  I can say that even though I was so self-absorbed and self-important that I am now immune from this sin.  But that would be a lie.

Jesus loves the humble.  He favors those who are poor in spirit.  But he resists people who are proud and self-sufficient.  He stands against the arrogant.  The Father hates my pride and my arrogance.

I want to encourage you to come to Jesus now.  Come as you are and He shall meet you.  Dispense with your pride and “humble yourself before the Lord”We do all right if we see ourself as ordinary and average.  Satan will look for any handle you give him.  Pride is one of his favorite ways to control you.  When the disciples tried to figure this out they ended up fighting (Mark 9:33-34).

 “But it should not be that way among you. Whoever wants to become great among you must serve the rest of you like a servant. Whoever wants to become first among you must serve the rest of you like a slave.  In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people.”

Matthew 20:26-28, NCV

The ”marquee incident” was 15 years ago, but I am determined to remember how the Lord revealed to me my pride.  It has become humorous to me now, but at the time it was brutal.  I have had to learn through weakness.  When I am weak, He is strong.

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  Tim Keller

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The Modern Tax-Collector

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Luke 18:9-14, ESV

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Essentially it would seem, that there are only two kinds of people, (which simplifies things.)  On the right stands the religious man, who has confided  in a level of righteousness that he deems adequate.  But his sin is multi-faceted.  A big chunk has to do with how he perceives others in comparison to himself.  He often despises those who are failures, losers, and criminals.  He points to them only to bolster his own standing. It generates his own feelings of religiousness.

Too many churches have become places were Pharisees come together to congratulate themselves.  These men and women do not operate from brokenness and humility.  They know nothing of tears over their sin.  But they pat themselves on their back because of their progress in the ways of God.  Life seems so wonderful in our churches.  We leave the service comfortably encouraged in our self-righteousness.

The tax-collectors of this world are its drunks, addicts, mentally ill, and the losers.  They stand afar off. And they don’t even have the energy or confidence to turn to God.  They know exactly what they have done, and understand perfectly that they are less then zero.  There is such a gap between these two men, and it has only deepened to this present situation.

Where are the bipolar, the schizophrenic, the person with OCD in our churches?  For that matter, where has is the unwed mother, the crack addict, and the homosexual gone?  I will tell you where, they are “standing afar off”People with ugly secrets and intense issues are often scared to death by religious people.

Please be aware. I didn’t intend for this to be a hard word.  But many of the “rascals” of the Church have gone missing!  We must seek them out and bring them home.  The sinner very often needs our encouragement to “come and dine” with Jesus. The last verse of Jesus’ parable sums up the lesson–

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:14

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Pride on Rollerskates

 

  Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so do our selfish desires and our desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father.

1 John 2:16, CEV

 

You and me– We are trying very hard to escape from the evil found everywhere in this world system.  Satan’s access point is our own ‘built-in’ pride.  He can reach right into our hearts using that particular spot.  We all have this thirst for recognition and worship (of course, with a small ‘w’).  John calls this ‘foolish’.  And we are fools!  And yet it is so hard for us to be small.

‘Our selfish desires’ are very difficult to unplug.  We have a thirst for things and we will spend a great deal of time and effort to get the ‘item of the moment’.  We see something new or novel, and we must get one for ourselves.  It’s like a compulsion.  When we get our prize, it starts to collect dust in our closet.  It rarely lives up to our lofty expectations.  Funny thing, is we feel deprived if we can’t possess it.  Even though the consistent pattern is to lose interest in our ‘prize’ once we have it.

‘Our desire to have everything we see’ is John’s evaluation of people in general.  It’s been thousands of years, but John is timeless.  He ‘zaps’ us and lifts the curtain to what is really inside our hearts.  WE WANT IT ALL!  Everything that ‘tickles’ our fancy, is to become ours.  I want all of it!  If I see it, desire it, it is mine.  Step back, and think about the wickedness of this.  If we ‘x-ray’ pride, do a CAT scan on it, we will discover 1 John 2:16 opened up and wiggling right there in front of us.

We must come to the place were we want to look at who we are, deep down.  We can so easily avoid truth.  ‘Just keep moving’, and don’t think about it.  And then we run right smack dab into this solid marble pillar of 1 John 2:16.  We pick ourselves up, check for broken bones, and start to wonder about this thing that can’t be eroded away.  It stands, untouched through time.  That stands before us as eternal truth.  It causes us to come to the point of making a real decision.

Is John making sense?  Is he communicating clearly?  I believe he is.  I have no significant reason to set aside his observations.  As a matter of fact, he confirms my suspicions and gives me some intelligence and guidance on how life unfolds.  This verse, all that it is contains, is the property of the Holy Spirit.  It is a completely saturated ‘sponge’, that is overfilled with the presence of the Lord.  I must encourage you, the reader, to look again at John.  Let that book press into your very being.