When I was a kid we had to do lesson books for Sunday School. At the end of the lesson was a space asking for my personal response. I gave it. My teacher marked it wrong with a big black X.
I was upset because I gave my honest opinion and I thought it was about expressing my thoughts, not parroting an answer. This still happens today out in the big world. Students can lose grades and employees can lose jobs for answering a request for their personal feelings about a non-work related issue.
I may not agree, but a personal opinion is a personal opinion. It’s a thought from a person who is processing. If you can’t handle the answer, don’t ask the question.
When I first looked out the kitchen window as the sun set behind the mountains, I thought I saw snow on the tree. We’ve seen a lot of snow these past months.
But no. It’s not snow. This time the pear tree is covered with blossoms.
Flowers of your faithfulness are blooming on the earth. Righteousness shines down from the sky. Yes, the Lord keeps raining down blessing after blessing, and prosperity will drench the land with a bountiful harvest. For deliverance and peace are his forerunners, preparing a path for his steps.
Christ is not a reservoir but a spring. His life is continual, active and ever passing on with an outflow as necessary as its inflow. If we do not perpetually draw the fresh supply from the living Fountain, we shall either grow stagnant or empty. It is, therefore, not so much a perpetual fullness as a perpetual filling.
There is something comforting about the past. Even when we know it is dysfunctional, and carries useless clutter, it’s familiar. My thinking is like that sometimes. I know my old default way of thinking was filled with negativity and got me into all manner of trouble before, but when I’m not careful about being intentional I slip back behind the wheel and try to take the jalopie for one more spin. The seat is old and worn, but it conforms to the shape of my bum. I settle in -and then wonder why I am making no progress.
I hear the voice of my Lord asking, “And how’s that working for you?”
“I can’t seem to get it in gear… Can you give me a hand?”
“I have something better in mind.”
“But that means giving up ol’ Bessie.”
“But I’ve had this way of thinking for a long time. It served me in the past and got me through a lot of stuff.”
“And how’s it working for you now?”
“I’m kind of stuck.”
“I have something better in mind.”
“My vehicle, not yours. My thoughts, not yours.”
“Let me think about it……Well, this isn’t working. That’s for sure. By now I should be much farther ahead….”
“OK. Show me your ways Lord.”
Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. (Ephesians 4:21-23)
Edited to add:
So I just read something that said tonight is the first night of Passover and it included this verse:
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.(1Cor. 5:6-8)
Suddenly I started wondering what the expiry date is on my jar of baking yeast in the fridge. (Sometimes the literal/metaphorical line in my brain is not all that well-defined.) I checked. It’s this month. I chucked it. It’s probably time to toss some old thinking as well.
Ok, not “probably time.” It is time. I hear You, Lord.
One night I kept dreaming about a big ship out on the deep blue waters of the ocean. I’ve learned that when a dream repeats several times it is worthy of attention, so I prayed, asking about the significance of the image of the ship. Then I remembered that before I fell asleep I asked the Lord what “in the world, but not of the world” meant.
This was a loaded expression for me. In the culture I grew up in “worldliness” was the biggest enemy. “In the world, but not of the world” meant I had to go to public school, but I couldn’t look good doing so. Dressing fashionably, wearing make-up or having an up-to-date hairstyle was considered worldly -as was just about every other fun thing my friends did. The list of worldly activities seemed to grow with every request to do anything. I couldn’t play the same games, go to the same places, watch the same TV shows, or listen to the same music -at least not with permission. My grandmother gave me a transistor radio to listen to her favourite evangelists, but I may have tuned to a pop rock station after I figured out how the ear bud worked. I realize her intent was to protect me, but I often felt isolated and well, just weird. It didn’t help that my school mates re-inforced the weird label.
One of the sad results of having fences around fences was that I became very good at spotting worldliness breaches in others. If I couldn’t get away with it, why should they? I learned to be pretty judgmental.
Another consequence was not learning self-control or moderation when I was young. Since the rules often made no sense to me I depended on others to determine what was right or wrong. Choices were based on fear of punishment more than on caring and loving myself or others. I had a fear-based relationship with a God who specialized in saying no with a “shame-on-you” scowl behind that great white beard in the sky since he was mostly evoked to make me more compliant.
The end result of striving to obey all the rules, ironically enough, was that I never realized I had the right to say no. No to religious authority figures who abused power, no to bullies in the workplace, no to those who wished to make me their personal servant, no to people with ulterior motives — not even no to salespeople I felt sorry for. I bore a lot of scars for a long time. The hardest part of breaking free was constantly living with a sense that God, when and if he showed up, was on somebody else’s side -because they had already gone and tattled about me.
It’s been a long journey to learn that God is love and relentlessly kind and is not very much like the god I grew up with. So when I asked, “What does in the world, but not of the world mean?” the question carried a lot of baggage.
“Like a ship,” I heard.
I thought about it. A ship sails on the water; it depends on the water, but it remains separate in substance. Even a submarine avoids becoming one with the sea. When a reed raft, like the one used on the Kontiki expedition absorbs too much sea water, it sinks. When an iron ship has a hole under the waterline like the Titanic, it takes on water and is dragged down to the bottom. But a ship in dry dock, safely away from dangers of sinking, is a boat going nowhere. It serves no one and has no influence no matter how modest its paint job or how clean its decks.
Then, much to my surprise, I found the expression held over my head for so many years, was not actually in the Bible. The closest passage I could find is Jesus’ prayer in John 17:
13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. (John 17:13-19)
He asked for protection from the evil one for his followers and that they would be set apart by the word, which is truth. I may come to the same decision about choices I make now, but a lot of times I don’t – especially if pressured to make decisions based on negativity (God’ll get you for that) or fear (What if there is not enough?) or impatience with God (I guess I’ll just have to fix this myself) or a need to control others to remove the temptation to worry (You really should…). Boxing God into the limits of human reasoning no matter how impressive the brain (and I have met some incredibly intelligent people) feels like absorbing soggy ideas laden with questionable presuppositions sometimes, and when I neglect to dump the bilge water of too many scornful talk shows or scary shark movies my thinking is affected. I start going down.
The Greek word used for Spirit in the New Testament is pneuma, meaning air. I can live on the ocean and appreciate its beauty and its dangers, but I am not called to be one with the ocean. I need air. I need to be in a boat that floats so I can enjoy the ride. The Holy Spirit is the one who fills our sails and leads us into the truth that brings about real change. Repentance doesn’t mean doing penance. It means cooperating with Holy Spirit to change my way of thinking and choosing to go in a better direction in a boat that can be as colourful as I like.
God’s language is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and when decisions are based on these things, there is no need for rules.
The problem with people who want to “take God out of the box” is that they can seldom resist the temptation to stuff him in another one of their own making.
Jesus said the Holy Spirit is like a river that flows and a wind that blows. He is ever moving. To try to put constraints on him, by explaining him by how we have seen him move before is putting him in a box.
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. ( John 7:38,39)
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
Jesus did not heal everyone the same way each time. God did not respond to the cries of his people for deliverance the same way each time.
Recently I heard someone say that the rules and regulations surrounding practices in their denomination were put there for protection. The rules seemed to be quite reasonable when they were devised years ago. But as I was thinking about this, it struck me that the berms built around my son’s neighbourhood in High River, Alberta were also put there for the protection of the town. When the river temporarily changed course at the highest point of its rain-fed uncontrollable gush, the berms actually served as barriers that stopped the water from flowing back into the channel and turned whole neighbourhoods into a stagnant lake, a lukewarm mix of both fresh river water and disgusting sewage sitting in the summer heat. Stagnation created ideal growing conditions for mold and bacteria in the foundations of homes that were now trapped behind the man-made parameters that were “put there for protection.”
Sometimes denominations form around groups of people with similar experiences, similar understandings, similar revelations, similar aspirations, similar emphasis, or similar disgruntlements. The unity they experience can feel like a refuge and berms are built around it to protect this peaceful easy feeling. But after a few years those protective structures can serve more to keep some folks in and other folks out, and sometimes even try to confine Holy Spirit inside the berms of their definitions of themselves.
The result is stagnation.
Many of us sit in dangerous lukewarm water. We have become the comfortable church of Laodicea, thinking we are rich, when we are poor, not noticing how stinky it is getting and that all of our accomplishments are tainted by the backwash of our own waste.
Church-leavers who form tiny home groups and church-planters who organize stadium-filling mega-gatherings all face the same temptation to berm themselves in. It doesn’t work.
Why? Because God no longer lives in a box. No longer does he need to say, “Touch this box and die!” because we couldn’t approach his holiness in our sinful state. He lives in his people – living, moving, breathing people, reconciled to their Creator by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are his temple. Living stones.
Christ in us, the hope of glory.
This doesn’t mean we abandon discernment and wisdom and accept any old thing. In fact when the Holy Spirit is flowing there is greater discernment and falsehoods are swept away instead of being treasured in hidden places in our hearts’ basements.
He desires all who truly follow Jesus Christ to drop the barriers, and worship Him in Spirit and truth without anger or disputing.
“You will never be fully resigned to the will of God if you are troubled by human opinion of you, or if you make of yourself a little idol of what people say.
You cannot be hurt by men. You cannot be hurt by devils. You can only be hurt by self, your own pride and the violence of our desires. Your self is the greatest devil of all.”
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
The joy of discovery is not just for kids. When “You know what I mean?” brings a nod, another bridge connects to wider plains of wonder.