Grace Habit, Part 13 - Can God Spoil Us?

This is actually part of something I've been thinking about for a little while - almost as long as I've been pondering the whole Grace Habit.

Two completely perfect people - totally impervious to spoiling

Two completely perfect people - totally impervious to spoiling

What do you think?  Can God spoil you?  Has He spoiled you?  Do you know someone who God has spoiled?  I'm willing to bet a delicious sammich - right here and now - that 95% of us answered "no, nope, and yes" to those three questions. 

And I don't know about you - but it goes WITHOUT saying that my parents did NOT spoil me. And my confidence on that has almost nothing to do with none of my relatives reading this. And you seem pretty cool - so obviously you're not spoiled either.  Awesome.

spoiledkids.png

If you look up (and by look up I mean google) "how to spoil a child" - you'll get the above gem - with a link to the rest of the list - which you can see for yourself if you're interested by clicking here.  But our question is not can kids be spoiled - because that seems rather obvious. Instead our question is can God spoil US

Based on what we can read about God in Scripture - that He's perfect, holy, just, righteous and loving - God seems ill-equipped to spoil us - or better put - the perfect entity to un-spoil us. Actually I'm of the opinion that God's ability to un-spoil us is directly proportional to our willingness to authentically pursue a growing and real relationship with Him.  Who could ever stay spoiled even just a little in the face of learning about and incorporating into one's life the teachings that Jesus spells out - for instance - in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? At least for me - it seems like nearly everything out of Jesus' mouth is well-suited to illuminate any cozy entitlements, prejudices, cravings and expectations my ego is clinging to.  

What about those people in Scripture who seem to have been recipients of some profound favor - people like Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah for instance.  What about them?  Were they spoiled?  Were they God's "perfect little pets?"  Did everyone around them just roll their eye-balls so hard you could practically hear it when any of those individuals names were called out when God wanted to give "someone" special recognition?  If you read these stories ... you come across little bits of information about these individuals that hints that they invested their lives in God in some remarkable ways.  I'm inclined to believe that we're all God's favorites and some of us really take that to the bank - such as Abraham did - in having the requisite faith to pick up and move his whole family away from the rest of the clan - and then giving God his long-awaited and promised son to boot.  You read about Moses' putting all the entitlement of royalty at risk to relate to his countrymens' plights in Egypt.  David had a life-long habit of putting his life on the line for others - and spent the majority of his life putting his life at stake for God.  We know he wasn't perfect - but neither am I - and I don't put my life at stake.  And on and on it goes.

Honestly - this whole idea of "can God spoil us?" is the basis of the book of Job.  Satan was accusing God of spoiling Job.  

It seems that the only way God can really spoil us - is with His love.  Encountering God's love though tends to have the exact opposite effect of spoiling us though.  In fact - it seems that those struggles that inflict the most damage on the body are precisely the ones that frequent and meaningful encounters with God's love counteract.  Hypocrisy, judgement, self-righteousness, bitterness, dissension and strife - cannot survive long in the face of God's great love.  It seems like the more we walk dependent on His Love and Grace - the more we become - strengthened against these spiritual diseases. 

May we then all be so dependent on God's "spoiling" Love and Grace that we would be every earthly good to those around us - and a testament to Heaven's good will towards us all.

Grace Habit, Part 12: Radical Sustainability

Small tangent: Okay - you may not realize this - but I really love it when I remember to get a pic that's just right for the post right at the top ... If I forget to add the pic right away at the beginning of the post - it's a tiny bit trickier to get it just right ... so today's post is about sustainability - which predictably led to a google search with lots and lots of green pictures ... green maps of the world, green globes, green city skylines and such ... no problem ... I like sustainability and green skylines - but that's not really what this post is about.

so then I searched "pure endurance" - and that turns out to be some powder you add to your ... everything to make some store at the mall rich ... sooooo anyhoooo ... long story short ... here is the best picture I can come up with for what I mean by sustainability ... 

Like that?  Great art.  The artist wishes to remain anonymous.  ahem.

How do you suppose Jesus taught the disciples to be with Him while He was with Him? "What a silly question!" you say.  And you're right.  That's pretty much obvious - right?  How did He teach them to be with Him after He was gone?  That's less silly, isn't it?  But I bet when you read that - you didn't think of Jesus' trappings - but rather Him, Himself.  It's interesting to me that Jesus - who could've made it so - that when we read His words we would essentially only read of Him telling us how to be with Him - instead of recording all that other stuff - like Him saying "catch a fish and pay my taxes".  And I'm on board if you say "well, really, all of it IS Him teaching us how to be with Him" ... but I'll still circle back to the thing He did say "this is Me teaching you how to be with Me - is a little prayer called the Lord's prayer and we teach it to children and even people who aren't in church every time the doors are open know at least a lot of "Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name ... " 

Jesus' teaching His disciples how to pray - while He was with Him - was a whopping sub-70 word message on prayer.

Yet how many of us have this ideal way to spend time with Jesus that's just ... well, it's just ... not sub-70 words ... it's kinda ... if truth be told ... grueling.

To be Christian - sometimes - feels like "to want to love Jesus, just a little bit more than I do now."

What if the best way to love Jesus more - is to just love Him now.  That's it.  Just love Him in this moment.  Simply.  Directly.

Call me crazy - but I think that Jesus didn't slip "give us now our daily bread" to leave us groaning - exhausted with tortured looks on our faces "daily?"

Here's another radical idea ... maybe the goal isn't to have this ueber-time with Jesus every day - including the perfect prayer, the perfect scripture study, the perfect intercession, the perfect worship ... 

Maybe perfect isn't all these little bits we add 

Maybe perfect is just us being with Him - and a few dozen words.

Don't get me wrong - I'm really into spending time with Him - praying, studying scripture ... big time.  I confess.  Think I'm kidding ... my current journal is #79 ... I have over 7,000 filled journal pages ... and that's after I edited a bunch and set a whole banana box full of old journals on fire. 

I don't say that maybe less truly is more because I don't want more - but because I do want more.  And I want more for the students I talk to and work with.  But I've also seen them looking at my journals and saying things like "I should journal".  Gag.  

So for the record ... You cannot get into heaven by journaling - daily or otherwise.  Nor can you secure your salvation by engaging in the most technical Bible study. Memorization?: Ditto! Name a spiritual discipline - and the answer will be the same.

But over and over again I hear and see people talking about spending time with God that sounds just so grueling.  In fact - one of the first sermons I remember hearing was called "No Bible, No Breakfast!" I was about 12 - and I'm afraid I remember it for all the wrong reasons ... the preacher lost his mind up there preaching that sermon.  He went ape.  He lost his temper - his cool - his composure - and he lost a 12 year old girl sitting in the back row in the middle of the youth group.

But what if the key to anything "daily" with Jesus were as simple as "you be with Him - and He'll be with you - and maybe you say a few words"?

Hmmm.

Okay - let's think about this another way:  what kinds of "equipment" did most of the people who Jesus ever preached to have?  Um ... their clothes.  Apparently some showed up for revival meetings without even a picnic basket full of goodies for the "well-duh! there's going to be a pot-luck afterwards!" ... and had to settle for fish-sandwiches.  It's hard to imagine any context in which they were all functionally literate - never mind toting around a rig like this ... 

um ... that's my rig

um ... that's my rig

As a person of faith - I think Jesus came when the world was ready ... and that includes their daily rig.  Nobody had anything like this going on back then.  Even the Essenes sitting at Qumran didn't carry around a rig like this.

Also - I believe Jesus modeled for us a way to be with him that was accessible to all.   You know what else - I think sometimes I have covered my imagined insecurities with purchases ... with stuff.  That's just me though. 

So - based on what was sustainable at the actual time Jesus was teaching people how to be with Him - I keep coming back to "If it was really that important for our spiritual growth and development - He would've said it, taught it, modeled it.  Jesus said "pray" and He modeled praying. Jesus said "pray to the Father - and He prayed - both with the disciples and sometimes He went off by Himself for "extended periods" of time ... but when He taught His disciples to pray He didn't say "thou shalt go off and pray all night every night."  ... I have sure added to the Lord's prayer myself plenty of times ... "Give us this day our daily ... verses to live by, deep thoughts to impress others with, meaningful interpretations to get the attention of the leadership, leatherbound Bible looking respectfully tattered PLUS a journal bursting with notes ... " 

Another way to look at this whole conversation is the "daily bread" part ... Jesus referred to Himself as the Bread of Life - and that surely was an homage to how God sustained His people in the desert on manna.  Also back then - bread - a hand milled, stone-ground stuff naturally leavened in the air (think: sour-dough) and baked in an earthen oven or over an open hearth fire - was actually and rightfully on the daily menu.  This was a whole-grain food - because there was just not such a wild abundance of food that anyone was nuts enough to farm by hand to grow a crop and then throw over half of the edible portion out just to make "softer bread" ... people had flat middles and hard bread - and they were eating to avoid starvation. Bread was essential.

Bread was essential.  Jesus is essential. He's comparing Himself to what's essential.

If the way you're spending time with Jesus isn't essential - enjoyable ... you crave it ... change it.  Please.  

I don't want to tell anyone how to do this - but for the sake of example - I use what I do.  Sure would love to hear what you've found is sustainable day over day.

I love being out-of-doors.  I love camping, hiking and backpacking, kayaking and all that ... but don't worry - if that's not your thing - then please substitute what is your thing ...  But this is literally my essential, daily Jesus - and I find that the more I do engage in this practice - the more I want to engage in this practice.

The practice is this ... in my mind - I go to my favorite camp-ground ever ... and I go down and sit on the beach.  (As luck would have it - I have a picture of the view across from this place - see above)  I recall that scene after Jesus resurrection when He sat on the beach grilling fish with His disciples ... and I just sit there with Him.  I imagine the cracking fire.  The sounds.  The feel.  The smells.  Often it is in fact wordless.  Often it isn't.  It is always pleasant. Utterly sustainable.  I finish this one day and immediately want to go back and do it again.  I have never once had to cajole, berate, guilt, or bribe or engage in any other such technique to force myself to comply.  I have found - that being with Jesus is alluring, calming, encouraging, uplifting, engaging, fulfilling, restful, peaceful, inspiring ... it feels exactly like being loved in a place I love.  Feel free to try it for a minute or two. Stay longer if you want.  Don't if you can't. 

And it turns out that the thing that in the way of this much longed for sort of experience all my life was all trappings I brought to it.  Now - participated in at it's essential level - it really is this:

Grace Habit; Part 4

Wikihow  even has a wiki on how to study the Bible - here's their image.

Wikihow even has a wiki on how to study the Bible - here's their image.

The question remains: "How did you learn to spend time with God?"

Did you have deovtions?  Did you sit down and have your quiet time?  Or did you follow a Bible reading plan?  Maybe you read  "My Utmost for His Highest"?  Maybe you used a Life Application study Bible?  Maybe you had an Inductive Study Bible?  Or maybe your church or denomination offered a class on how to study the Bible - or maybe you took a seminary class?

I remember when I first learned about Christian Book Distributors ... back in the day - with a phone call to a 1-800 number - they would put you on their mailing list - and send you their catalog - printed on newspaper type paper - all black and white - with hundreds and hundreds of horrible little grainy pictures of life-altering bargain priced books like "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis.  I remember my mother handing me a check to "go buy something decent to wear to an interview" - cashing it - driving to Good Will and a garage sale or two - and coming home with something better than ripped out jeans and worn thin hoodie to wear to an interview - and mailing a check off to the catalog people - and buying my first study Bible: a hard-backed NAS Open Study Bible.  Then came the Thompson Chain Reference Bible ... then Bible software!  Ooooh!

There are also a plethora of prayer methods aren't there.  There's the "A.C.T.S." method (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication).  I'm personally pretty fond of the "Hour That Changes the World" by Dick Eastman - an 11-kinds of prayer - that at 5 minutes each(ish) takes up an hour when you begin and end with praise.  I've always liked best that it includes both resting with and listening to God - which actually makes prayer seem like a conversation.

Maybe you remember missionaries coming to visit your church and telling you about people hearing the gospel for the first time, or receiving their first Bible.  The head of the campus ministry I attended as a student was invited at one time to teach a class to some Czechoslovakians back when Czechoslovakia was a country still.  He told stories about two brothers attending who every evening after the last class would plead with him to borrow his old, worn out Bible over-night and then hand deliver it to his hotel room the next morning "on their way" to work (but it was actually horribly out of their way).  Near the end of the class the brothers finally told him that they were taking turns hand-copying whole books from his Bible - because they'd never had one and didn't believe they ever would - and even though this Bible was in English - a language they struggled with - they were so eager to finally access to a Bible - they considered themselves extremely fortunate and were glad to give up sleep - and walk twice as far to work.  When my campus minister heard this - he instinctively gave them his Bible - right then and there.  They were so over-come with joy that this book was now theirs - that they burst into tears.  I believe that just about every single missionary serving near the U.S.S.R. or other closed countries has stories like this.

It's curious that today it's so ridiculously easy to have a completely free personal Scripture study reference library that would be the absolute envy of every seminary student not at all that long ago - and to carry it around with you everywhere you go - on your phone!  You can down-load a free app that will even READ the Bible out loud to you with a professionally produced recording - in the version of your choice - again - completely free and utterly portable.  Yet I don't think this proliferation of resources and ease of access to those resources has led to a significant uptick in Christians diving in.  Obviously, life is extremely complicated and despite the dawn of the internet age has failed to automatically become easier - so the answers to how this has come to be are varied and numerous.  Still - the excuse we all said before you could stuff an entire seminary library into your back pocket was "Well, I'd love to study the Bible more - but who can afford all those resources?"

So - what IS stopping us from diving in?  Busyness for sure - but busyness doesn't really mean busyness does it?  Or better put - what "gem of an idea" would unleash your inner scholar?

Grace Habit, Part 3

Do you know about "the voice"?

No, no, no.  Not this:

Rather ... the voice in your head.

Yeah.  

That.

Did you know that of all the biggest world religions there are three where adherents who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and are intent in their practice of their faith - can often fall prey to a particularly pernicious form of OCD called scrupulosity.  Sufferers of scrupulosity have intense anxiety surrounding thoughts about having committed some moral infraction.  In other words: they're horrified at the idea of sinning - morally, ethically or in some other way. You can read an article on scrupulosity here.  The three world religions where scrupulosity is most likely to occur? Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. 

How interesting that Christians would face this issue.  Aren't Christians; like the bumper stickers used to all say "Christians aren't perfect.  just forgiven"? Really?  "Just"?  As if it were ... trite?

Hold that thought.

Did you also know - that those same three world religions seem to produce another similar result in another form of mental illness ... adherants of these same three global faiths who hear voices - hear judgy, condemning, and verbally abusive voices.  Whereas individuals from Africa and even India - hear friendly, playful voices. Hmm. Interesting.  

And again - I'm personally just a little curious - how it is that Christians, who's faith, at least in the Good Book, makes some amazing statements about forgiveness, redemption and grace - but that's not impacting people as much. 

Obviously - I'm just noticing - not making a judgment, not denying the real and awful burden that mental health is - especially in a country where it's far more likely to be penalized, criminalized than insured and treated.  I am noticing though - that there's something about the "It Is Finished" part of Jesus sanctifying work on the cross that's not sinking as deep into the Christian psyche as the sin part.  It's like - as a global faith community - we just don't get the "Neither do I condemn you" part of Jesus interaction with the woman caught in adultery in John 8 ... we are as a people fairly hung up it seems on the "Go and sin no more part".  It's as if - as soon as God's forgiveness washes us clean - we feel constrained to "humble ourselves" or "stay real" - and go right back to living as if we were still in the muck.  Sometimes we even try to make it "cool" to be "broken"

MudManMikeKIng

 

But here's the thing ... has anyone ever been able to actually go and sin no more?  Well, other than Jesus, of course?  Wasn't the whole point of Jesus - God's own beloved Son - needing come down and live among us precisely because no one has ever actually been able to go and sin no more?  Isn't at least part of what we glean from every single Bible story every kid learns in Sunday school is that they were all imperfect people?  Adam & Eve sinned. Cain killed Able. Noah got hammered.  Abraham lied about his wife.  Twice. David slew giants, but committed adultery with Bathsheba ... Simon Bar Jonah - so impacted Jesus that the Savior gave him the nick-name "Peter" - literally, "The Rock" - yet just before the crucifixion The Rock himself - gobsmacked by fright and stress - denied having ever known Jesus with colorful language and plenty of volume. Romans 3:23 says it best. 

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (NASB)

Of course - there's the other side of scripture ...

 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  1 Peter 1:16 (NASB)

And yet - just a couple chapters later Paul - the great New Testament theologian, reiterates that despite Romans 3:23, Here's our reason for hope:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8 (NASB) 

But - can Christians really be stuck between either Jesus' work on the cross was essential to introduce a new paradigm - and yet still - as if it were still the day before Resurrection Sunday, 33 AD live as if there were no option but being trapped in a vicious cycle of breaking the law, and atoning, and then breaking the law again, and atoning again, and on and on ad infinitim, ad nauseum?  

I don't know about  you - but stuck in the muck is stuck in the muck - no matter how cool you might try to make it.  There HAS to be a way to live abundantly now, you know, when we're alive. There has to be a difference between our existence now - and the existence before Jesus.  That can NOT be right!  It's bad enough that I'm stuck there, cuz' you know, maybe that just "my problem" - but I've been asking around and have dragged an innumerable quantity of books back and forth from the Library/book store/my friend's house (shhhhh ... I'll put it back!) - and I haven't found in any book or teaching a practical and clear solution - easily implemented and simple to understand.  Well - I hadn't until just a couple of years ago that is.  And it seems to me that there's a huge connection between the voice that dominates our thinking - and our ability to really step out of the gloom and into forgiveness.  Are we afraid to live in the light of forgiveness?

freedom thru forgiveness.jpg