The Dream: Tombstones and Bowls

Last week I wrote a blog entry about the nature of dreams and how I believe dreaming is an evidence of an immaterial soul that temporarily disengages from our body and allows us to be both the author and audience of our dreams.

Writing that blog entry brought back to my mind an incredible dream I had about six months ago that was so moving I dictated it into a recorder after waking up. It is not unusual for me to have vivid, intense dreams, but the following dream was in a category all its own. Immediately upon waking up I felt impressed in my spirit that my dream had a depth of spiritual meaning that did not originate within my own creative mind. There was a level of clarity and sharpness to specific details in the dream that amazed me. Entire conversations were still very much on the surface of my mind and so I quickly grabbed my I-pad and began to record everything I could remember. Listening to it again has only confirmed that I believe God was seeking to share a message to me. I have not bothered to write it down until today. Except for some grammar restructuring and other minor details the above recounting is almost a word for word transcription of what I recorded into my I-pad in the few, short minutes after waking up. I pray that the Lord would help you discern what is true from what is false and aid you in arriving at a conclusion that reflects His heart and mind. That being said, here we go:

“I have just woken up from a dream and I am now recording it because I believe it was God given. I was surrounded by all the superheroes of the world. Superman was there, Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman— every hero the earth looks to for salvation and help was at one gathering in one place. All of a sudden we were all taken up into the sky and we began to move as one group through the atmosphere into space. We passed the moon in a second and then we quickly flew past Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The sensation of speed was amazing. I remember it was so fast that Superman declared that it was faster than even he could fly, and therefore he knew he was not flying under his own power. Batman stated he couldn’t fly at all so he knew there was a force that was allowing them to fly together.

The rate of our travel was beyond anything possible that any superhero could achieve who was there. We then traveled through what I can only describe as a wormhole. The speed of our travel increased as the most distant stars in the Milky Way zipped past us by the hundreds and then the thousands. We soon arrived at the end of the Milky Way and then shot out the other side. We continued our journey through empty space, surrounded only by darkness. Soon we could see another distant galaxy approaching. It was at that point that we suddenly stopped. We turned around and looked back upon the Milky Way galaxy in the distance.

All of a sudden the earth appeared before us, yet we all seemed to know it was not the actual earth but rather a representation of the earth as some sort of alternate reality. The earth suddenly zoomed right into us and we found ourselves standing in the most beautiful, green valley I have ever seen. In the distance were majestic, snowcapped mountains and tall evergreen trees. In the middle of this green valley were hundreds of beautiful, white tombstones, each with the name of someone carved into them. It was a graveyard but it did not feel like a graveyard. There was no sense of sorrow or grief. One could only feel a sense of beauty, calm and incredible peace and rest.

In front of the white tombstones, in a very small area, was a wooden deck and on the ledge of the deck was around a dozen wooden bowls. Some of the wooden bows were filled with fruit, some with vegetables, some with candles and incense and others with only water. I didn’t know what I was looking at and neither did any of the superheroes. In fact Superman and Spiderman began to talk to each other asking, “Why are we here? We are on the other side of the Milky Way. Who brought us here? We did not come here under our own power!” I then began to wonder aloud, “What are we looking at? What are all these graves? What is this a picture of?”

At that moment a man approached us. He was clothed in light but it was not a blinding light. Somehow I knew it wasn’t God the Father or Jesus but I intuitively knew it was someone from heaven— possibly an angel— who was sent as a messenger to explain to us what we were seeing. He turned to the group of superheroes and said,

“You are allowed to see this because you are the saviors the earth looks for and looks to. You are the ones the earth creates stories about because they are looking for a savior. Deep down inside of them they know they need a savior; they know they need to be saved from themselves by something greater than themselves and so they create great mythologies based on you that are not real. You have been taken to the other side of the Milky Way to see a picture of what the earth could be like as a parallel world of reality.”

The messenger seemed to be addressing the group, but I began to feel he was specifically talking to me. I stepped forward and asked, “But what are these tombstones? What is this beautiful, peaceful valley? How can this valley feel so peaceful in the midst of so much death?” The messenger or angel then replied, “You are looking at how calm and peaceful and beautiful the earth can be. You are looking at the answer that the earth needs for true salvation— and it is death to self-life. It is death to self-rule. It is death to self-centeredness.

The messenger then began to quote phrases in scripture, saying:

“I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

“Put to death the deeds of the old man.”

“Put off the old man and pick up the new man.”

“I have been buried with Christ in death and baptism that I might have new life with Christ”

I had read and heard all these scriptures before, but they took on a new level of weighted authority as they came out of his mouth. I remember the messenger pausing as if he was looking to see if I was taking his words into my heart. He then continued to declare scriptures with a firm voice but not necessarily a loud voice,

“What does the Lord desire? He desires that you would be a living sacrifice.”

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God”

As if he knew I needed more understanding, he explained, “A sacrifice is about something dying. But that does not mean God wants you to commit suicide. No—God wants you to be a living sacrifice not a dead sacrifice. To be a living sacrifice you must be willing to die to anything inside of you that is not presently under the authority of Jesus.”

His words were piercing right through me and I remember feeling like it was impossible to hide from his words—as if his words were alive and would seek me out in the end. But I still wondered about the tombstones. As if he had read my own thoughts he said,

“The reason the world looks to heroes and saviors, and the reason the world is filled with crime, murder, rape, hatred, lying, cheating, wars, child pornography and every evil known to man, is because men refuse to die to themselves. The answer the Son of God brought was his death on the cross. Jesus then said each person who wants to come and follow after Him, must also be willing to die in order to be set right. That is why He said, ‘No one can follow me unless he picks up his cross and follows after Me.’ The answer to the world’s problems is men and women who belong to Christ being willing to die by presenting their wills and bodies as living sacrifices. That does not always mean physical death or martyrdom. More than anything it means being willing to die to their old man of the flesh and choose wholehearted obedience to the Lord. All of these graves you are looking at, and the names written on each white stone, represent the names of the people heaven will always remember. These are the people who will be honored in the next age when heaven and earth merge together and make a new world. These are the ones who will be honored in front of everyone. These are the ones who humbled themselves on earth and will become exalted in the next age to come. Everyone on earth now—including many in the body of Christ— are so focused on the age they are living in, they give no thought to the next age to come. This age will one day pass away, but it determines how you will spend the next age to come. The age to come will be much longer and lasting and it will trump every other age that came before. It will be the greatest age the universe has ever witnessed. But so few are living in the light and knowledge of the next age to come. The message and power of the cross has been lost to many. But those whose names you see written on these white tombstones are those who were willing to pick up their cross in this present age and heaven will not forget their sacrifice in the age to come.”

His words were powerful. But I found myself somewhat distracted by the wooden deck and the wooden bowls. I kept wondering about them. The wood was old and weathered, not necessarily rotten or ugly but there was nothing special about it. In comparison to the beauty of the valley it seemed to be out of place. Out of curiosity I asked, “What is this wooden deck with the wooden bowls doing in this beautiful valley in front of the white tombstones?”

Without a hint of annoyance at being asked too many questions, the messenger calmly replied, “The wooden deck and bowls are a picture of people trying to present a sacrifice to God that does not include their death to a self-centered life.”

He then picked up the first bowl and said, “This bowl was carved out by a man who wanted to follow the Lord, but he didn’t want to pick up his cross and die to himself. Instead he wanted to present a different sacrifice to God, hoping that God would accept it. But God rejected his sacrifice just like he rejected the sacrifice of Cain who wanted to confidently present to God the fruit his own hard work and labor— his vegetables. God accepted the sacrifice of Abel because in sacrificing a lamb, Abel showed he accepted God’s terms and understood by faith that true sacrifice is representative of an inner death to our own self-rule and self-governance. By murdering his brother, Cain only showed how little he understood of inner sacrifice at the time his outward sacrifice was offered.”

I remember still being somewhat confused as to the meaning of the wooden bowls. Again as if the messenger was able to hear my thoughts, he began to explain about the wooden bowls further, calling them, “Hindu bowls of sacrifice.” It was then I recalled seeing similar, smaller bowls in Hindu temples and Buddhist temples filled to the brim with offerings of fruit, rice or money and then given to a particular deity or idol in the hopes that their offering can offset their negative (religious) debt and win them favor.

The messenger then declared in a final voice of authority, “Remember these Hindu bowls of sacrifice represent sacrifices the Lord cannot except. They will not survive His judgment. Those who offer them may adorn them on the outside and use the same vocabulary as others, but do not be deceived, such sacrifices cannot be accepted. The Lord knows their sacrifice is a different sacrifice. Only those who are willing to present themselves as living sacrifices will be true heroes in the age to come.”

At that time I heard either the messenger or one of those in the group say, “It is now time to return.”

And then I woke up.

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The Stuff of Dreams

Dreams: an activity we spend one-third of our lives doing, yet we know so little about them. I have very vivid dreams and unlike others I can remember a great deal of content about my dreams— as long as I make a conscious effort to recall them in less than two minutes after waking up. After that they are like a thin, misty cloud that blows away leaving almost nothing behind. Last night I had another dream that held my attention throughout the night. Yes throughout the night. I know some claim we dream all that we dream in only seconds, but I don’t buy it. I can start a dream at midnight, wake up and piss at 3am and then re-insert myself into the dream and pick up where I left off until I wake in the morning.

Last night I had one of those dreams. It was vivid, exciting and scary. The detailed content is not important, but it largely involved me returning to the United States and signing a contract to work a job for what I thought was only 6 weeks. But then the manager informed me that I had just signed a binding contract for 6 years! I was devastated because I couldn’t imagine being separated from “my kids” in Cambodia for that long. I insisted I be allowed to leave after six weeks but was rebuffed. Any attempt to break the contract before six years and return to Cambodia would result in my arrest. Like most dreams there was much exaggeration and imaginative creativity that gave it sensational twists and turns. I soon made my escape and the military was sent after me. I was dodging helicopters, running from tanks, swimming through swamps and sneaking onto jet planes to get back to Cambodia. The dialogue was intense and the action sequences were powerful. I made friends along the way who assisted me, and others who betrayed me. The most interesting feature of all was the level of anxiety I felt as each unexpected surprise came my way.

That is what I want to focus on. How can you surprise yourself in a dream?

How can you create inventive dialogue and plot twists in your dream that leave you in a state of shock or fear? How can your mind create a nightmare that wakes you up in a state of panic? How can you split yourself into two people and be both the author and the audience. Why does a dream state allow you to do what you cannot while awake?

Can you tickle yourself? Can you throw your hands up in front of your face, say, “boo” and scare yourself? No you cannot. It is impossible because you already know what is coming. You cannot surprise yourself in real life. So why does a dream state allow you to do what you cannot do when you are awake? I believe the answer to this question holds a key to uncovering one of the many mysteries related to the nature of dreams.

Here is my theory. It will sound strange initially but allow me to develop it. I believe we are tripartite beings: body, soul and spirit. Hebrews 4:12 declares that the Word of God is so sharp it can penetrate our very being, “dividing even soul and spirit, joint and marrow.” I believe when you enter a deep sleep your spirit becomes partially separated from your soul and body and is actually in a state of “suspension” above your soul (mind) and body— and yet still tethered to it. Think of it like a balloon tied to your hand; the balloon is suspended above you but still tethered to you by a thin string. This temporary separation allows you to become both the author and audience of your own dreams. Your soul or mind becomes the active creator of an entire dream world filled with imaginative action sequences, colors, thrills, fears, surprises and intelligent dialogue between multiple people. Your spirit is the passive part of you suspended and separated from your soul and taking it all in as an impressionable audience. Through your mind/soul you are literally scripting a movie as you dream and re-tell it to your spirit-self. The reason you can actually converse intelligently with other people in your dreams and be genuinely surprised by their comments directed at you, is that your spirit was not previously clued in to what your soul was imagining (as it is when you are awake). Moreover, the reason you can wake yourself up in a panic through a nightmare of your own creation is that your spirit became overwhelmed by an emotional onslaught coming from your unconscious mind it was not prepared to deal with.

The notion that our spirit or even our soul is able to separate from our body is not as radical an idea as it first sounds. Firstly we know that in Christian theology such an action takes place at death. Paul states, “I have the desire to depart and be with Christ—which is far better— but to remain in the body is more necessary for you” (Phil. 1:22-23). Paul also wrote of himself, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know–God knows” (2 Cor. 12:2).

Secondly there is actually a growing amount of research in the field of Out of Body Experiences (OBE) and Near Death Experiences (NDE) stemming from medically induced unconscious states that may be supportive of such an assertion.[1] For example there are numerous accounts of people experiencing inexplicable, out-of-body experiences when they are put into a medically induced state of deep sleep for surgery. I have no doubt that many reported OBE and NDE experiences could be explained and accounted for neurologically and dismissed. But there are some accounts that are extraordinary wherein persons report being suspended above their bodies under anesthesia or after being declared brain dead and being able to look down upon themselves lying on the table and observe specific details of activity in the room and accurately recall those conversations of doctors during surgery.

Thirdly, I find it very interesting that the Bible does not treat dreams as a neutral subject. Almost every time the Bible mentions dreaming it does so in a context of a supernatural, spiritual visitation of some sort. For example we have Joseph receiving a prophetic dream from God about his brothers bowing down to him in the future. We have Joseph later interpreting the dreams of prison mates and Pharaoh. We have Jacob falling asleep and receiving a vision of a ladder full of activity as angels ascend and descend between heaven and earth. We have Joseph being visited by an angel in his dream telling him that Mary’s baby is from the Holy Spirit. On and on we could go. The point is the Bible speaks of dreams as an avenue that God can use to give us a message. Now let me say for the record that I believe 99% of what we dream is nothing more than the creative product of our own imagination and serves as little more than self-created entertainment while we sleep with no supernatural dimension to it. That being said there is no denying that the Bible often treats dreams as being a gateway to the supernatural. I believe there is a good explanation for that as well. Because our spirits are temporarily separated or suspended from our bodies and minds when we sleep, our spirits are more impressionable and vulnerable to the spiritual world around us. When we awake there are layers of human nature that immediately encloses around our spirit and makes our spirit less sensitive and impressionable and more prone to distraction, disturbance and doubt.

Fourthly I find it all the more remarkable that science has yet to discover a comprehensive reason why we really need to spend a third of our lives in an unconscious state. Some researchers regard sleep as “one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of science.”[2] Theories abound from brain consolidation of memories to releasing stress levels “but many of these theories are mutually exclusive.” In my opinion it is understandable that science has been unable to competently explain the nature of sleep given the fact that modern science disdains any talk of an immaterial part of our minds we call the soul benefiting from sleep. However through sleep deprivation tests we have learned that a lack of sleep can literally make our minds drift into insanity after only 3 days— but researches still don’t know why. The truth is the Bible speaks of the mind as being more than spongy grey matter. It is part of our emotional, immaterial soul. When we are in grief or in great despair the grey matter is not grieving, the soul is grieving. The mind or soul is more than neurons and synapses. If deep sleep is primarily for the benefit of our soul and spirit and not just for our bodies, then it would make sense that most sleep studies have only scratched the surface due to their myopic focus on physical, biological affects related to sleep or a lack thereof.

So what is the conclusion of the matter? I make no claim other than to say the mere fact that we can dream is evidence we are more than bags of skin housing organs. Moreover that we are able to routinely tell ourselves stories and surprise ourselves while dreaming, in ways we cannot do while awake, is reason enough to give us pause before discarding dreams as nothing more than quirky, neurological processes dumping memory waste.

 

[1] http://www.horizonresearch.org/main_page.php?cat_id=70

[2] http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2009/08/26/why_we_sleep_is_a_mystery/

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Transgenderism: The Politically Correct Mental Disorder

The following article (here) on transgenderism is a must read. As a witness to the increasing transgenerism societal trend in Asia with even dear people I know, it is good to read professional, lucid voices on this issue. The article highlights a position of mental sanity that is all to often ignored in our politically correct world–wherein to affirm every proclivity and deny every fundamental axiom is the new cardinal virtue.

It is troubling when so many well meaning people today can be so complicit in pushing forward an approach to life that is part and parcel of an unparalleled level of suicidal behavior–after the sex “change” (20x higher)! When we absolve and expunge the distinctions that natural order has given humanity we are not adding to people’s lives in a supportive way–we are ultimately taking away.

We live in a day where there is monumental concern over the genetic altering of crops and the general manipulation of a fragile environment to benefit our needs. “Don’t mess with nature” is the often repeated warning. And when an environmental disaster of some type occurs due to man’s reckless miscalculation of nature’s ways, we are reminded, “You can’t ignore nature.” What I find most odd is that many of the individuals who seek to warn us of the negative implications of manipulating and ignoring nature are the same individuals who advocate that human gender and natural biology can be manipulated without a word of caution or warning given to those who try.

At some point we are going to need to admit to our collective selves that some things just aren’t up for questioning. And when they are, it is a sign of disorder not a signal to RE-order. Peace out!

UPDATE: Another great article that supports the one linked above can be read here. In short the mental health professional argues (with research) that transgenderism is a mental disorder called a “disorder of assumption” similar to other assumption disorders like “anorexia” or “bulimia” in which the individual assumes they are overweight when they are not. Other assumption disorders, like “body-dismorphic” disorder convinces the individual he or she is ugly against all evidence to the contrary. 

 

 

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Jesus Only– An Arrogant Claim?

It is usually not too long into a discussion about the merits of Christianity with a skeptic that he or she trumps out their favorite rebuttal: “So you believe Jesus is the only way people can be saved, huh? That is the most arrogant religious claim I have ever heard.”

This is a serious charge and we need to be considerate to those who ask it. Because at first blush it does seem to be personally arrogant for someone to consider their faith as the “only way.”

Firstly in answering this charge it is critical we qualify who said what. If I were to say, “Jesus is the only way because that is my way,” then that would be an arrogant claim because I would be excluding “other ways” on the basis that they are not “my way.” But that would be a gross misunderstanding of the Christian claim. Jesus is not the only way because he happens to be my way; rather Jesus said he was the “only way” and that no individual can come to the Father except through him (Jn 14:6). *

So the question we need to ask the skeptic is, “Do you think Jesus is being arrogant? Ultimately these discussions will always goes back to the critical point: “What do you do with Jesus? Who is Jesus to you? What claims upon your life does his life make?”

Secondly we need to turn the charge of arrogance back around on the skeptic and ask him to consider the following. If it is true that Jesus is the Son of God who came and died for our sins to restore us to fellowship with God, wouldn’t it be of the utmost arrogance to dismiss his life and claims as irrelevant to our lives?

I like the way the author Rick Joyner once put it: “Those who say that Christianity is an arrogant religion because it claims that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God are, in fact, the arrogant ones. What could be greater pride than to have the Son of God come and make atonement for us, suffering as He did for our sin, and then say that we do not need His provision and that we can be reconciled to God on our own? Pride led to the first fall of Satan, and it is pride that keeps us under the power of the Fall. By humbling ourselves and acknowledging our need for the cross, we begin to be delivered from the power of sin.”

Thirdly we need to help the skeptic to understand that every worldview has its own points of exclusivity. Buddhism was birthed out of a rejection of three cardinal doctrines absolutely fundamental to Hinduism– 1) the authority of the Vedas (Hindu scriptures), 2) the cast system and 3) an eternal soul or independent self (atman). And of course Hinduism excludes the Buddhist worldview since it affirms the very points Buddhism rejects! Moreover Buddhism excludes Christian, Islamic and Jewish worldviews wholesale on the basis that it dogmatically insists belief in a Creator God is irrelevant if not utterly false.

Fourthly atheism is exclusivistic by its very nature. Atheism denies the absolute claims to reality that all religions make and seeks to substitute in its own brand of fundamental humanism that it claims apprehends the world aright. Even New-Age spiritism and Unitarianism are exclusivistic. Their attempts to meld and blend together all religious ways into one “tolerant” uniformity can only be done at the cost of offending and excluding certain core doctrines inherent to the very religious expressions they are borrowing from.

The point is ultimate truth should never be dismissed on the basis that it happens to be exclusive. The very nature of truth excludes other claims that are false. Just because a particular way is “narrow” does not mean it is arrogant. I’m sure every open-minded skeptic is grateful his airline pilot is willing to be “narrow-minded” when he lands his plane on a narrow runaway as opposed to the open cow pasture nearby. Every worldview, whether or not one can admit it, has its particular points of departure and exclusivity that define it in contrast to other worldviews. Furthermore each worldview lays claim to ultimate reality (“this is the way the world is”) according to their own interpretive paradigm.

Whenever I hear people say, “All religions are the same” I want to (gently) scream out, “REALLY!! Are you freakin’ serious?” Such a claim can only be made in gross ignorance. I have never heard any religious claimant say anything close to the central message of Christianity. Consider the following point of departure: Most religions try to pump up their God, inflating his transcendence in order to disassociate him from the crud of our world. But Christianity is God bending low, stooping down into our miserable, rebellious earth to take upon himself all our filthy sin and crud and be executed for us! 

Now one can certainly choose to dismiss that story line as the greatest hoax in history. Even the apostle Paul conceded if Christ did not die and rise from the dead our beliefs are pitiful and worthless. But if it’s true, the one thing you cannot do is dismiss it all as irrelevant to your life. If Jesus was needed for my sin, he is needed for the sin of all. To deem him irrelevant to your life is to reject your only source of rescue and freedom from sin’s enslavement. It would be no different than a shipwrecked survivor rejecting a life preserver thrown to him as irrelevant because he misjudges it as being nothing more than floating seaweed.

My pastor once said it best when he said, “Heaven and Hell is not a separation between the good and bad. It is ultimately a separation between the humble and the prideful. The humble recognize they are in desperate need of God’s grace and mercy, whereas the arrogant deem God’s provision through Christ to be beneath them and irrelevant to their lives.

 

* The question as to whether it is possible certain individuals who are ignorant of the gospel can still come “through” Christ and be saved is a separate matter of discussion. In short I would say yes. The N.T. makes it clear the blood of bulls and goats did not take away sin from the O.T. saints. Therefore in some way the atonement of Christ was applied to O.T. persons despite their ignorance of Christ. Personally I believe the N.T. makes clear God’s judgement and our accountability is based on a 1 to 1 ratio in relation to the amount of revelation we receive.

 

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God’s Exploitation of the Devil’s “Thorns”

God’s sovereignty should never be seen as unilaterally determining or decreeing the evil actions or intentions of free agents (human or demonic) before the foundation of the world. Rather God’s sovereignty is best understood as exploiting the evil actions and intentions of free agents.

The following is a good example of how this can break down. In 2 Corinthians 12:7 we read: “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself!”

A couple of critical points emerge from this text. Paul said a “thorn in the flesh” was “given” to him to keep him from falling into pride and conceit. He qualifies it as a “messenger of Satan.” Now the question that presents itself is, did Satan not want Paul to be conceited? No. Satan would have loved to have seen Paul become conceited. But his hatred of Paul had blinded him in seeing how his evil desire and intention to hurt Paul through a “thorn in the flesh” was being used and exploited by God to actually love Paul and keep him from pride.

Scholars differ on what exactly the “thorn in the flesh” refers to, but it is irrelevant to the point I want to make, which is that God’s sovereign allowance for affliction to come to Paul was not evidence that God hated Paul, but loved Paul and did not want him to become disqualified by pride–which is no doubt what the devil wanted. So God gives, through a sovereign allowance, a “thorn” that the devil intended to use to hurt Paul because he hated Paul. But God will exploit the devil’s hatred and usurp it for his own purposes. Sovereignty by exploitation is a critical facet of God’s providential power and grace. When we choose to trust God during affliction, like Paul, rather than become embittered against God, like Cain, we release ourselves into God’s sovereign wisdom in allowing us to go through disappointment and hard times. In part it is one way God can “cause all things to work together for the good to those that love God” (Rom. 8:28).

Moreover this little snippet of a window into Paul’s life reveals that sometimes in allowing affliction God may not be giving what we want, but what he knows is best. The scriptures do indeed teach us that God “gives good gifts” to his children (Mt. 7:11), but we also discover that what is “good” in God’s sight may not always be to our personal liking or preference. Sometimes God gives, through his sovereign permission, “thorns,” not because he hates us, but rather because he loves us and knows what is best.*

This does not mean every affliction of life can be so categorized, for indeed many afflictions and agonies in life are self-afflicted and stem from our own rebellion against God. But it is worth considering that some troubles and disappointment in life may be God’s means to preserve us and protect us, rather than torment us and oppress us. So the next time an irritation or an affliction comes your way, instead of immediately entrenching oneself in faith-quenching bitterness and resentment, first go before the Lord and ask, “Lord what does this mean? What must I do?”

*I am indebted to my pastor, Craig Mclaughlin, for this insight.

 

 

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Dealing with Disappointment, Anger and Cynicism

GriefSometimes when we are mad we have many raw and honest emotions we want to voice. Part of growing up is learning how to contain our honest reactions over events and deliberate over them to consider a right response. Sometimes our relationship with God is the same. We find ourselves to be in situations where our honest emotions and honest thoughts are that perhaps God is not good or does not even exist. And we think it is noble to go with what is honest– otherwise we are faking it. So if we feel God is not good because we find ourselves floundering in the wake of another painful disappointment that God should have saved us from– if indeed he exists– than why try to argue against what we honestly feel? Why continue to cling to a belief that is counter intuitive to our emotions? Isn’t that the very definition of fooling yourself?

No it is not. It is a mark of growth. For again part of growing up is learning how to deliberate over our honest reactions to negative stimuli and and weigh the pros and cons before actualizing them as choices or decisions. A crying baby cries honestly whenever it doesn’t get what it wants. But when the baby becomes older we we teach the child to suppress its honest emotions and learn how to objectively consider them and maybe not give voice to them at all. But this doesn’t mean we are teaching the child to live a lie. Rather we are teaching the child that emotions–even honest ones– are poor custodians of truth.

Moreover when our children continue to grow into their teen years and want to throw in the towel on a friendship or quit a school project or give up on a dream, all because their honest thinking is that XYZ is not worth it, we try to encourage them to see their frustration and disappointment in a different light that doesn’t make forfeiture, quitting or accusatory blame a default response to difficulty.

Even as adults we recognize ourselves that sometimes situations offend our honest sensibilities and a right response on our part may require generous amounts of patience, forgiveness and tenacious perseverance. To take this path is not easy because it goes against the grain of honest feelings and thoughts. Yet to those who are mature recognize there is often a difference between honest reactions and right reactions and between what feels right and what is really right.

Someone once said we cant see the frame when we are stuck in the picture, which I take to mean we are often incapable of evaluating external events objectively when our emotions–honest though they may be– are sucking us ever so inward that our perspective becomes overly skewed and our response in turn becomes overly reactionary, defensive, lazy and self-centered rather than measured and thoughtful.

Now lets plug all this back into our initial discussion about God and disappointment. There is no escaping the fact that at times God’s promises will seem to run completely counter to our life experience. To continue to exercise faith in God’s goodness and faithfulness in the face of delayed or unanswered prayers is not easy. But is it worth it in the end? God’s greatest promise to us is, “Yes–in the end it is supremely worth it.” In fact the scriptures seem to suggest that God distinguishes between the unfaithful and the faithful on the basis of people’s response to the storms of life, calling the former “double-minded” who cannot receive anything from God and the latter “over-comers” who will inherit the earth and rule and reign in the age to come.

The greatest lie of the enemy that has infiltrated the Church is that following Christ is a deliverance from all trouble and evil days. Quite the opposite. Christ assures us “In this world you will have trouble but be courageous– for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The scriptures tell us we are in war of attrition and hell will do all it can to bring us into faith quenching despair.

A Christian who has lost his faith in God is a neutered Christian who is so turned inward that he poses no threat. Yet not satisfied with just that the Enemy often seeks to turn them against the Good by underhandedly nurturing their loathing and negativity with the goal of totally replacing their neutered faith with accusatory blame, cynicism and bitterness. In this way he succeeds in taking what used to be a sharpened spear of faith opposing him and turning it into a blunt and crude weapon of bitterness, accusation, cynicism and anger. Such a person has immense influence to then stab and sow similar attitudes in others and in time sour every meaningful relationship they have.

If your first response to reading this section is to say, “Well why doesn’t God do something!What’s wrong with him! Doesn’t he care about us?” Know that you have already begun to succumb to the deceiver’s schemes and lies. And know that you are not fighting “the good fight of faith” or “wielding your mighty weapons for pulling down strongholds” or “casting down imaginations” or “taking captive every thought that sets itself up against God” as clearly laid out for you in Scripture. What we don’t take captive will take us captive. Your mind and heart are in a very perilous place.

If we ever find ourselves in such a place our only way out is to repent and reckon as truth that the fault never lies with God no matter what evidence we’ve been amassing and carting around for years like an attorney ready to prosecute our Heavenly Father whenever the need arises, such as when others get to naively “Christianeezy” around us. All of this must be forcibly renounced daily until we begin to sense our anger and cynicism dissipating and becoming less of a default mindset. Then we must begin to praise God for every conceivable good thing we can think of– recognizing that “every good gift comes down from the Father of lights.” Let the blind man thank God for his hearing. Let the deaf man thank God for his sight.

Once again if your first thought to that last statement was, “Well what is a deaf and blind person supposed to be thankful for?” Know that you truly are perilously close to instinctual cynicism. And once cynicism and negative thought processes become our instinctual default mode, we stop thinking, processing and contemplating. We begin to react reflexively and angrily to situations that require even a modicum of faith or hope. “What’s the use?” becomes our un-spoken mantra we live by. As a result, the world shrinks before us. Innumerable possibilities become closed to us as we seek to play it safe and risk nothing. We become increasingly entrenched in un-teachableness as a spirit of cynicism slowly assimilates us like the Borg. The Bible calls this a spirit of unbelief and it is ruinous to our souls and those around us.

Christ often said “let him who has ears let him hear” right before he said something of great import he knew would be difficult to stomach. Those word are appropriate here. If we value whatever is left our faith and love of the Lord we must be militant in renouncing a cynical spirit daily until we begin to sense our anger and cynicism dissipating and becoming less of a instinctual response. Jesus mysteriously said, “The Kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by force” (Mt. 11:12). Renouncing, repenting and thanksgiving are our weapons and they are powerful. Eventually the atmosphere of repentance, thanksgiving becomes so toxic and choking to the enemy that he releases his hold and goes off to find easier prey– ones who have the “fight” all out of them. It is critical that we put up a fight when we least want to! This is better understood as “resisting the Enemy and he will flee (James 4:7).”

Let him who has ears let him hear.

The next stage of our warfare, that not only regains lost ground but takes ground from the enemy, is our resolute praise and worship. Praise and worship not only gives to God what he is due, but it also disarms our negativity and carries our spirit man into a place of rest and recharging. I used to play an old Nintendo game where your character had to run around killing the enemy, but when his life-power meter became dangerously low, he had to run into a circle and stay there long enough to recharge his life meter bar. I can’t remember the name of the game, but I can still remember the sound it would make as your little character gets recharged for the fight ahead. I have often have this visual memory return to me in moments of great trial and exhaustion. Like my digital character, we too need to withdraw into the “secret place” (Mt. 6:6) and recharge ourselves for the battles we are in and those still ahead– we do this through praise and worship.

But a little disclaimer, or at minimum a clarification is in order because some have been robbed of an incentive to praise God due to some confusion as to what the scriptures are admonishing us to do. When the scriptures say to “rejoice in The Lord at all times” (Phil. 4:4) it doesn’t necessarily mean we are called to praise the circumstances or praise what happened– or even necessarily praise God for what happened (Though at times that may be appropriate). Rather we are called at all times to praise God– period. In other words we are called to praise and offer thanksgiving to God in spite of what happened, not necessarily because of what happened. Why? Because we recognize that God’s praise worthiness does not rise or fall on the basis of events taking place on earth– or on Proximal Centauri, in the Andromeda galaxy, or anywhere in the universe. His praise worthiness is world independent. This is critical, praise 101 stuff we need to be grounded in. Otherwise our habits of praise become situationally dependent and never transcendent and transformative. Pure praise recognizes that God, in virtue of being God, is simply so awesome that he is deserving of our praise independent of the circumstances taking place around us– whether good or bad.

In numerous places the Bible talks about a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” (Psalm 116:17, Heb. 13:15). The idea of sacrifice revolves around the idea of giving something up, losing something or surrendering something of value for the sake of something greater. King David once had the option of offering a sacrifice to God with animals that were given to him by another without cost. But King David rightly recognized that such a sacrifice would be no sacrifice at all, saying, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24).

The question before us today is, how much does our sacrifice of praise cost us? Do we only praise God when it costs us nothing, when there is nothing taxing our hearts? Do we only offer praise and thanksgiving when it is emotionally convenient for us? Sometimes a sacrifice of worshipping God will cost us surrendering up the “why” question and needing to fully understand all that is taking place. At other times the cost may be to our comfort such as sleeping in. Rather than shun them, we ought to intentionally look for opportunities to offer up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving that cost us something. Sadly we all too often forfeit these opportunities because we are too turned inward with bitterness, anger or depression to recognize them.

Lastly love of God is the ultimate goal, the ultimate pursuit of our lives. Someone once said the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but the love of the Lord is wisdom completed. To love God more than loving our need to understand and have an answer is the greatest test of faith. For me trust is love and love is trust. The Lord graced my life with wise, impactful parents, and recently they reminded me, “Matt, the scriptures say trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. You can’t have both. You are either trusting the Lord through difficulty, disappointment and pain OR you are trusting your own understanding of that difficulty.”

 

 

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Boko Haram, Human Tribalism and Our Sole Hope

Nigeria has been in the news quite frequently due to the kidnapping of over 200 girls by an Islamic militant group called “Boko Haram” which literally means means “Western Education is Sin.” I recently asked my grandfather about the roots of Nigeria’s current ethnic and religious strife. My grandfather worked for the State department for over 30 years and spent much of his time in Africa.

I’ll start by quoting him on Nigeria’s present crisis being rooted in ill-conceived borders established through colonialism, and then I’ll proceed to make some comments in regards to how the gospel of the Kingdom is Africa’s sole hope for tribalism and strife.

My grandfather explained that, “In the case of Nigeria, the continent’s most populous land, the political problem has its roots in colonialism. The British colonized ‘all the lands drained by the Niger River’. Not really but almost, and made them into a single colony for administrative purposes. They really represent three separate countries. Islamic North, Christian South and Christian East. On Independence African countries faced this problem, and jointly decided too much blood would need to be spilled if they tried to reset borders, so they kept the colonial, unreal, borders.”

Interestingly, Nigeria’s current issues related to imposed borders from colonial times almost seems to mirror some current Middle East issues that stem from how the land was carved up and allotted. I don’t think the Kurds and the Sunnis (or the Shiites) will ever see themselves as a homogenized Iraqi citizenry no matter what map lumps them together.

This touches on a critical fact endemic to human nature. The stiffest borders are in the heart and it is where our hatred for all things different stews. I think this is why the “Kingdom of God” as Jesus preached it (and as Christians often fail to live it) is the only hope for a world that habitually seeks to dig the trenches between ourselves deeper and wider. In that sense I’m of the opinion that one of the most powerful verses in the Bible is Colossians 3:10-12:

“And put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–a renewal in which there is no distinction between Gentile and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Only the Creator and Lord of life can take a heart of stone and infuse it with compassion, kindness and gentleness towards one’s perceived “enemy.” I almost find it amusing that Paul mentions the “Scythians” who in the 1st century were the most hated of all the Barbarians threatening the Roman empire. It is almost as if Paul was trying to think of the most extreme example a skeptic could come up with: “Surely not the Scythians? Surely we have a right to hate them! Surely we have a right to harbor animosity towards them?”

“Nope–not even the Scythians,” Paul would say.

Of course in my opinion having a Jesus-inspired Kingdom ethic founded on self-sacrificial love rather than swords and treating former enemies as one’s “neighbor” is impossible in the natural. It is just not in our “DNA.” As Paul implies it requires a “new self renewed in knowledge according to the One who created him.” In that sense it goes back to why Jesus said, “Unless you are born again you cannot see the Kingdom” (John 3:3). It is not easy seek the Kingdom above all else, but it is worth it. Yet whenever the Church considers it not worth it to “pray for your enemies, bless those who curse you and do good to those that hate you” (Mt. 5:44) simply because it’s not easy, we stop mirroring our professed Savior and start manifesting Caesar. We end up with Crusades and Inquisitions instead of Christ crucified.

The way of the cross or the way of Caesar, it was a choice Christ made that surprised the first disciples and still surprises us today. Every generation desperately needs to head the words of 1 John 1:1, “Whoever claims to live in him, must walk as Jesus walked.”

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