The Center Cannot Hold

Indifference has to be one of the worst outworkings of a heart. Paul says to the Romans (12:15), “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Should it follow, then, “be indifferent with them that are indifferent”? Because if you’re indifferent and unfeeling and uncaring with anyone at either end of the aforementioned spectrum, it will end in snuffing out the joy and also exacerbating the sorrow.

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15)

Neither confirming nor denying

“And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin.” (Luke 19:20)

Matthew’s gospel relates it thus: “And I was afraid, and went and hid Thy talent in the earth…” (25:25) When you neglect the gifts God gives you, either wrapped in a “napkin” (akin to a handkerchief) or buried in the world, there’s no way it can be multiplied–no way it can do any good for either you or anyone else. The word “idempotent” refers to a mathematical process in which a number is unchanged when multiplied by itself. It’s more complex (and probably simpler) than it sounds. Suffice it to say, I don’t understand it beyond its definition. Here’s the thing: we cannot consume ourselves and expect to thrive. And we cannot consume the beauty and sorrow of our brothers and sisters in Christ without reflecting back the same to them either. Christian community is made up of numerous children of God–male and female alike–who all take their impetus and catalyst from Jesus Christ. Who in turn received it from the source, His Father. The self-actualizing entity is a myth. Everything God does for us is a  gift. Something to be tended and guarded–and shared. “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)

All things in moderation

“Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.” (Proverbs 25:16)

All things in moderation? Except for sophrosyne, of course. Same thing. I find that gratitude is the order of the day. That, and simple acknowledgment of God with the petty concerns that make up much of my mind. If I’m only concerned with myself and getting more, I won’t be attuned to God or the things He’s already done. As such, I won’t see what He’s doing in the grand scheme of things. As the beautiful things are gifts, so too, are the struggles. Not because we enjoy them, no. Paul says “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Not to downplay what you’re going through, but Paul says it’s naught but “light affliction”. God doesn’t lay on you more than you can handle. Mix in the affliction with the “talents” (a “weight and measure”) you get something that looks like daily life. Don’t worry. As you press in to God, you and your gifts will win out in the end. Provided you haven’t buried them somewhere…

“A man’s (and woman’s) gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16) Crescendoing in Jesus, the Greatest. When I was younger and going through certain existential struggles, feeling the weight of my circumstances and also my indifference to the whole matter, I would foolishly wish to be cold because I saw it as easier than the other two. Not wise. Incalesce.

God is not indifferent

“And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.” (Colossians 2:19)

The suffering in your world and the world and mine grieves His heart. The easy answer of Heaven (i.e. the afterlife) is more than a placebo. But it’s also neither here nor there beyond a certain point. The dryness and dullness (and indifference) we perceive when we look to the sky, is really in our own heart. If you throw in subjectivity and cultural relativism and also the devil and sin, you get a world that balances out quite nicely–on the side of indifference. To level complaints at God and His followers for the sorry state of much of the world does nothing to change His heart. If you’ve ever had a taste of the mighty sweetness and tenderness of “Our Father who art in Heaven”, you won’t settle for anything less. The more we endeavor to run to God (as opposed to standing still or running away), the hotter we’ll be. Consequently, the more our gifts will bring glory to Him. Adiaphorous refers to medicine, or “medicine”, that does nothing, a placebo. And while effects can be produced psychosomatically, it was the patient rather than the prescription. God never does or starts anything without the intent of seeing it through to completion. Hold on and hold out for the best that He has. You can turn this world around. Don’t think for a second that God is indifferent.

Sinners Pews

“He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)

Last in, first out

It hurts to be misunderstood. It hurts deeply when those who are expected to take you in with open arms instead give you a cold shoulder. It hurts even more when you endeavor to follow Christ in your own life and know His peace and presence and purpose, and then those to whom He’s sent you, don’t see you as He does. His statement is manifold but with reference to our brothers and sisters in Him, the ones who look at you and wonder (or don’t even look at you at all), it looks as if Jesus is saying that if they don’t accept you, they won’t be entering in to a fuller communion with Him. His blessing and presence may well be blunted if they choose not to see you as a gift. This pattern repeats itself throughout the Bible.

“But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And He could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And He marvelled because of their unbelief. And He went round about the villages, teaching.” (Mark 6:4-6)

Sometimes, the hardest people to reach are the ones in your own church. The ones who go about their day and their week, blissfully ignorant of the God that you know and bring with you on Sunday. When Jesus “came into His own country” again (Mark 6:1), those who grew up with Him had no idea where He got His stuff. They were incredulous at His “wisdom” and “mighty works” (6:2). So much so, I’d wager this is the beginning of the attitude that crescendoed in the lynchmob mentality that hunted Jesus down in Gethsemane and had Him crucified.

“Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.” (Matthew 17:17)

Jesus says that if someone receives you, they receive Him and also His Father. If you know you represent God, know that He and Jesus are your audience. They are the Ones that see your heart and know your motives. If you struggle in the face of impolite conduct, gossip and an irrational (read: loveless) coolness in your church or any of your circles, know that that’s what God wants to warm up and burn out–through you. It happened with the prophet Ezekiel.

“And He said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them. For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel; Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thout canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.” (Ezekiel 3:4-7)

God calls Ezekiel “son of man”. He says to go and “speak with my words”. I like that. Because the time you take to actually make the words of God yours, will tell in the effectiveness in getting your (God’s) point across. “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing…” (Matthew 13:15) Jesus is quoting Isaiah (6:10). Evidently, the same thing happening in the Old Testament was happening during His time and it happens today. People hear a sermon every week and the words go in one ear and out the other. The mere words, it would seem, mean nothing. And yet when God tells you–you to “speak with my words”, you know they won’t “return…void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

God tells Ezekiel that he would have been a hundred percent effective if he went elsewhere with his message. That’s amazing. The confidence of God in reaching the lost and the unsaved! But the care and concern He has for those who’ve already made a commitment to Him and are backslidden! Which is greater? And this is where it can get scary. Because if God wants to do new things and only a select few people have availed themselves of God’s heart on a matter, and no one else wants to slow down and see it, where can He go?

Praying in the back row

“Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” (Psalm 50:5)

But that’s not our problem. The writer of Hebrews says (10:39) “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Keep pressing on. God has your back. Look in the eyes of those whose are glazed over (don’t think donuts, think ice–that’s the root of the word) and let God ignite the same fire in them. Sometimes it takes time. Heartache and boredom and God knows what else. If you have a fire on your insides (you should!), stay warm and stay there.

“Then the Spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place. I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing. So the Spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.” (Ezekiel 3:14, emphasis mine)

In other words, Ezekiel was pissed at his lot. He saw God. He knew God, he knew that much. And if left to his own devices, he probably would have left “Israel” alone. But the Holy Spirit moved him along. It didn’t matter that he “went in bitterness, in the heat of [his] spirit”, he still went. God can do something with us, regardless of our feelings, if we choose to obey Him and go where we’re sent.

Avant le lettre

“And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26a)

Before it was cool

What does it mean to be a Christian? The suffix -ian essentially makes whatever noun it’s attached to an adjective. So if you wanna get real pedantic and rhetorical (without being disrespectful), it literally means “like Christ”. And Christ means “anointed one” in Greek. “Like the anointed one”? Or, “follower of Christ”? That’s about right. Funny thing, the word “Christian” appears twice in the King James version of the New Testament. First, it’s used by King Agrippa as he expresses his shock at Paul’s forwardness and confidence in seeking to convert Agrippa (who was the last of the Herodian line of kings, an ardent Hebraist; see Acts 26:27-28). The second time comes from Peter’s first letter (4:16): “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” Peter uses it in the context of suffering. Something that, in my opinion, is certainly not seen as “cool” in much of Western society. We have what we need and with a church building on every corner, we’re able to comfortably flow in and out of the shallow waters of culture and if we don’t mix it up with those who are a little (or a lot) left-of-center, then that’s fine with us. And Peter continues (4:17): “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”

The French term Avant le lettre means “before the term was made up”. And with reference to the first usage of the name “Christian”, it says “disciples”. Those who had already been following Jesus. There’s more than one way to pull this apart. Again, without being pedantic and picky, Luke (the writer of Acts) doesn’t say who called them that. He doesn’t add on anything surrounding a label that is arguably (now) one of the densest and alternately misunderstood and misrepresented title in the world today. To where now, it’s pretty much only an adjective. Does the word “Christian” make you think of Christ? Of Jesus? If not, we have work to do.

“I know thy works, (this is Jesus speaking to the church in Laodicea) that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16)

Before it gets hot

It’s folly for Christians to try and reach a “lost and dying world” without turning the spotlight on itself first. And I’m not saying this isn’t being done, but if you wonder why there is the apathy and coldness, er, lukewarmness in the church today, we as Christians would do well to seek God’s mind and heart regarding our sensitivity to Him. I feel that much of the church has run off and left the Lord standing, arms outstretched, wondering why his followers are more concerned with looking the part than looking like Him. If that makes sense. Without a reference point, no one can become anything. With reference to Peter’s warning that “judgment must begin at the house of God”, consider this:

“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake. Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” (Philippians 1:29-30) Paul says it is given. Suffering is a gift. And I can’t tell you what it looks like for your life. I do know however, that if you ardently and actively press in to God through worship, praise and acknowledgment and truly seek His will for your life, you will suffer. No, you’ll most likely not go to jail and be beaten within an inch of your life in order to renounce your Savior. You’ll probably not find yourself on the street tomorrow having nothing but the clothes on your back and no morning coffee. The “sufferings of Christ” are more mysterious. They are something that you can’t wrap your mind around if you find yourself within the whirlwind. My experience is, God will let you see a little glimmer of who He truly is. And then He’ll allow the darkness to pour in while you train your vision on restoring that original glimpse and seeing it grow to fill your field of vision. All this, in spite of the atmosphere in which you (now) find yourself. It could take years. What other endeavor is more important?

In closing, the King James trades meanings with the word. Most times when you read “suffer”, it means just that. To go through a period of purifying and strengthening even as you’re emptied out in service to God and others. The other connotation, however, is allow. And that’s a simplified, stripped-down paraphrase. But that’s really what suffering is for. It’s to allow God to do what He wants in this world, in your world. No one ever said being a Christian was easy, and yet as we truly follow Jesus, as our name suggests, we will ensure that that definition never becomes avant le lettre.

If Everyone Would Be So Kind

There are things that happen to each and every one of us that make up our days. Our best days and our worst days. If you ask me, these things, of monotony and mediocrity, of misery and mountaintop highs are both turning us into who we will be in five years, yet also revealing who we are right now. So who are you, right now?

Kindness is something that can be shown at any and every stage of life. From our highest highs to our lowest lows. The tenets of Jesus apply to each. True kindness is something that infects. In our fast-paced, throwaway culture, with its shallow mores of interaction, true kindness shown but for a moment will create a pinprick of light in the recipient’s day. It’s really God shining through us, though we may not realize it at the moment.

“For His merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise ye the Lord.” (Psalm 117:2)

It shouldn’t take much to think back and to see the kindness of God’s hand in our lives. Y’know, He’ll accept any praise or thanks (however small) for anything that we’d like to bring up. It’s all present with Him, as it should be with us. We are a product of the infinite kindnesses of the Lord.

“Charity suffereth long, and is kind…” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

God looks to shine His love and kindness to the very depth of our being. There are moments in my life—times of testing, really—where I begin to think, not that God is unkind, but that He’s more-or-less indifferent. As if somehow, I’ve been moved to the periphery of His will, or attention, or whatever. Sometimes I think it’s me, and other times, it would seem that He’s the one being mercurial. How shallow. It’s these times of mediocrity and misery that God is still just as kind as He’s always been. Taking the time to slow down and meditate on this aspect of His character will bear fruid by the Holy Spirit. He’ll shine through the fog of seeming indifference and show that, yes, He’s always been there. Always smiling, encouraging. And kind.

Even times of discipline are kindness. “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” (Hebrews 12:6) The daughters of God, too. David saw it thus: “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.” (Psalm 141:5) Those whom God used to steer David in the right direction were in turn helped by the payment in kindness that David showed by praying for them in their time of need.

This is how the Body of Christ is meant to function. The kindness we receive from the Lord is meant to refract through us to the rest of humanity, Christians included.

Fill ‘Er Up! part 2: A Slow Leak

You can’t hear it. You can’t see it. You only know it after you get in your car or on your bike and find that the air in your tire(s) has been steadily escaping since God knows when. And now, you can’t go anywhere. *gasp*

God does know. Rest assured, He tried to tell us. He probably used any combination of inklings from the Holy Spirit, friends/acquaintances/strangers, random coincidences that couldn’t have been… Point is, God doesn’t like to see us lose our enthusiasm or joy or drive. But let’s face it, if we’re living on planet earth as a carbon-based (physically, of course) life-form, we will end up dealing with the entropy of our enthusiasm in some way shape or form. It’s the natural order of things but it’s not the supernatural order of things—in my opinion.

In order to proceed, we must distinguish between a blow-out and a slow leak—to continue with the tire metaphor. A blow-out is akin to a crisis. You immediately begin dealing with it. Emotions are neither here nor there. Sure, it’s inconvenient, if incapacitating. But it’s well-defined and (hopefully) a solution’s at hand. Call a tow-truck. Change it yourself. Whatever. Nevermind that you might have been headed somewhere you shouldn’t have. There is that possibility, and I don’t mean to confuse the issue because deep prayer is required for both a spiritual blow-out and a spiritual slow-leak. But we’re talking about something that crept up on you that didn’t turn out as bad but still needs the same remedy. Sad thing is, many Christians have no idea when or where or how they began that slow slide into ineffectiveness and humorless complacency. The parallel in our Christian life is we become, over time, walking, talking, joyless, and therefore powerless, specimens of what God can do for a person. We shuffle by like a zombie and those who have “a good eyesight for a flaw in a deed”, to quote Robert Louis Stevenson, will see right through our veneer of spirituality and faux Christianity.

This is a multi-faceted issue, but the main thing I’m campaigning for here is some vestige, however small, of praise, or worship, or prayer, or thanksgiving—anything at all, done in love, that maintains a conscious connection between us and God. This is the most worthwhile endeavor of life. Many things in life are of supreme importance but they are all ancillary compared to this one.

One of the symbols of the Holy Spirit is wind, or air. Even more literal is the Greek word for “spirit” as in Holy Spirit, which is “pneuma”. Literally meaning  “air”. Something that inflates and keeps afloat. The trick is, in becoming so sensitive to Him that we’re able to detect when something happens, however small, that would divert and distract us from inward focus upon God. And that’s when the leak starts.

Think about your best friend. Or your spouse. How well do you know them? How in tune are you to the slightest thing that could offend and then conflagrate into the silent treatment (if that’s their personality type)? When we think of—and interact with—the Holy Spirit, we must understand that we are dealing with the most sensitive individual in existence. Granted, much of the time spent living our Christian life is done inside His presence and His auspices and we probably don’t even consciously sense Him. Understand that love is the great equalizer and He doesn’t suffer from same temperamentality as do we. But He can be “quench[ed]” (1 Thessalonians 5:19), and grieve[d]” (Ephesians 4:30) and gone. Or at least it feels like He is. Rest assured He’s there, though. Say “Hi” if you feel so inclined, but this on-running attitude of marginalizing the Holy Spirit into relative obscurity is the first step that ends in flat tires and flat-out sessility. That’s not good. We’ve got new paths to tread and places to be led. And we can’t go if we have no drive.

Stand in front of a car, get tired. Stand behind a car, get exhausted. Bad joke, I know but it’s true. Get in.

It takes time to reinflate a (bike) tire by hand. So too, does it take effort to win over the Holy Spirit back into our conscious Christian outlook. If apologies are in order, let fly. And spend time soaking in the reality of His comfort and presence and love. Make an effort to pay conscious attention to Him. He’ll respond. And when the slightest breeze you feel, let it flow and continue with your response of attention and love, whatever you choose. You’ll be on your way in no time.

National Resurrection

“Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

Whether you believe in God or not, the fact that you have the freedom to believe or the freedom to doubt is integral to the fabric of this nation. Ten years ago that fabric hung, tattered and knotted as we struggled in disbelief at the attacks on the East Coast. I watched from my TV, having just come back home from delivering a missed customer on my paper route. It took a long time to process what I saw and still some of the details are hazy. Like the New York skyline for weeks following.

Did God cause it to happen? Absolutely not. But I believe He was powerless to prevent it.

As it says in Proverbs (16:7), “if our ways please the Lord, He’ll cause our enemies to be at peace with us”. The pundits, preachers, poets, priests and politicians (thank you, Sting) pointed at this sin and that “sin” and blamed each other. Conspiracy theories littered the landscape like detritus from the war of ideologies. And yet, following this tack, it was indeed an inside job. Inside our hearts and minds we shut God out. All of the apathy and hate and ingratitude rising to heaven, we sacrificed compassion and conscience for hate and hedonism and as such the door was left open for the enemy. We paid the price. And as Ed Roland (of Collective Soul, in an unrelated song;10 Years Later) sings: “it’s 10 years later and still I haven’t a clue”. I see today, the same apathetic attitude we were infected with a decade ago.

God’s forgiveness is still extant and extravagant. Love, as Peter says (1 Peter 4:8), covers a multitude of sins. Any outward, behavioral sin, “a reproach to any people” (again, Proverbs 14:34), begins—towards God (Psalms 51:4)—in the heart and mind. So, too, do the virtues. A lukewarm heart, veneered over with rudimentary morality isn’t going to last. Let us turn to God again and let Him heal our nation (2 Chronicles 7:14). We need to “put aside the alienation” as Rush sang in Limelight. Only when we renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) to the truths in God’s word will we experience real healing and prosperity. And freedom. From sin, violence and apathy. His love, mercy and grace will help us if we ask.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Selfless Self-Control (Fruits of the Spirit part 9)

“The fruit of the Spirit is…temperance”

The last fruit of the Spirit listed is temperance. It basically means self-control. The generally accepted idea is that we experience the temptation to sin but self-control enables us to resist and overcome. And this is true but there’s more to it. We’re not meant to be focused solely on our own holiness (i.e. sinlessness) for its own sake. Jesus forgave and effectively took care of every sin that humanity has committed and ever will commit, when He died and resurrected. Yes, there will come a time, if necessary, that you will experience “manifold temptations” as Peter says (see 1 Peter 1:6), but self-control really comes into focus when, after that period of trial and suffering, when you reach the edge of the desert and the outskirts of civilization, that God gives you your Promised Land (whatever personal blessing that may be). It’s now your job to defend and maintain the gift from enemies foreign (the devil, etc.) and domestic (complacency, ingratitude). This is the hard but worthwhile work of self-control, and is one of the main reasons that we go through trials in the first place. God gives us the privilege of seeing and tasting what Jesus went through but also to learn (meekness/teachability!) how to develop and cultivate a quiet heart and mind that is sensitive to the slightest whisper of direction from the Holy Spirit. And when someone’s mind is too loud, for lack of temperance, we might miss the path down which God wants us to go. David learned how. He says in Psalm 131 (vs. 2) that his soul is “behaved and quieted…even as a weaned child”.

Pride-based apathy has to be the most out-of-control attitude in our church and world. The discipline needed to maintain God’s Kingdom and program through worship and praise requires far more self-control than the resistance of simple outward mistakes and sins. As we remain meek and humble, we are enabled by God through the Holy Spirit to take responsibility for the part of God’s Kingdom that He has entrusted to us. Something that’s far more important and exciting than simply being concerned about not making mistakes for your own sake.

“For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Romans 8:13)

Meekness, or teachability, as we saw earlier, is the inroad to learning how to control yourself as pleasing to God and to remain in the flow of all of the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit so He can get done on this earth what He wants.